Editorial : Strained ties - Sunday, March 20, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/20/strained-ties-2.html

IT has been a challenging week in the life of the US-Pakistan relationship. In protest against a drone strike that killed about 45 people attending a jirga in North Waziristan, Pakistan has pulled out of trilateral talks with the US and Afghanistan scheduled later this week. Relations are tense, with official condemnations delivered both publicly by Pakistan`s army chief and in private to the US State Department. But as rough as this patch seems, it is not inconsistent with the history of US-Pakistan relations. Lack of trust in America has almost always been a part of the political discourse in the country. Most Pakistanis do not approve of American policies in the region, and have for decades believed that the US has either betrayed Pakistan in times of need or used their country to achieve regional policy goals only to abandon it once those objectives have been met. With the developments of the last few days, this trust deficit seems to have widened once again.
Whether or not Pakistani perceptions are true, the fact remains that at such a tense juncture, missteps must be avoided to prevent tensions from snowballing. The real state of the alliance is shrouded in secrecy — neither administration is particularly honest with the public about the terms of engagement — and it remains unclear whether recent developments mark a hiccup along the way or permanent damage. But the slightest mishandling of the current situation could result in the speedy deterioration of relations. Gen Petraeus`s call for military action in North Waziristan the day after the drone attack, for example, displayed continuing insensitivity to Pakistan`s domestic compulsions. At the same time, Pakistan must think carefully about what it hopes to achieve by shunning the trilateral talks. Signals are an important tool in diplomacy, but at a time like this each move should be thought through with sensitivity and with an eye to the long-term health of the partnership.
As recent events have once again proved, the sooner the US realises the need to change both its tactics and strategy in dealing with Pakistan, the better the outcome will be for both countries and for the struggle against extremism and militancy in the region. Both parties are aware that they depend on each other: America for achieving its goals in Afghanistan and Fata, and Pakistan for economic assistance. Putting arrogance and inflexibility aside, the two sides must have an honest discussion about their respective strategic interests and how these can be achieved through a joint effort. A focus on narrow self-interest is not the approach this relationship needs.

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