Meeting Pakistanis, U.S. Will Try to Fix Relations
By Mark Landler and Eric Schmitt for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — As Pakistani civilian and military leaders arrive here this week for high-level meetings, the Obama administration will begin trying to mend a relationship badly damaged by the American military’s tough new stance in the region.
Among the sweeteners on the table will be a multiyear security pact with Pakistan, complete with more reliable military aid — something the Pakistani military has long sought to complement the five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid approved by Congress last year. The administration will also discuss how to channel money to help Pakistan rebuild after its ruinous flood.
But the American gestures come at a time of fraying patience on the part of the Obama administration, and they will carry a familiar warning, a senior American official said: if Pakistan does not intensify its efforts to crack down on militants hiding out in the tribal areas of North Waziristan, or if another terrorist plot against the United States were to emanate from Pakistani soil, the administration would find it hard to persuade Congress or the American public to keep supporting the country.
“Pakistan has taken aggressive action within its own borders. But clearly, this is an ongoing threat and more needs to be done,” the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said Monday. “That will be among the issues talked about.”
The Pakistanis will come with a similarly mixed message. While Pakistan is grateful for the strong American support after the flood, Pakistani officials said, it remains frustrated by what it perceives as the slow pace of economic aid, the lack of access to American markets for Pakistani goods and the administration’s continued lack of sympathy for the country’s confrontation with India.
Other potentially divisive topics are likely to come up, too, including NATO’s role in reconciliation talks between President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and the Taliban. Pakistani officials say they are nervous about being left out of any political settlement involving the Taliban.
Still, in a relationship suffused by tension and flare-ups — most recently over a NATO helicopter gunship that accidentally killed three Pakistani soldiers and Pakistan’s subsequent decision to close a supply route into Afghanistan — this regular meeting, known here as the strategic dialogue, serves as a lubricant to keep both countries talking.
At this meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will formally introduce the new American ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter. Mr. Munter, who recently served in Iraq, replaces Anne W. Patterson, who just wrapped up her tour of duty in Islamabad.
“No country has gotten more attention from Secretary Clinton than Pakistan,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan’s delegation will be led by its foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, but much of the attention will be on another official, the military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who is viewed by many as the most powerful man in Pakistan.
White House and Pentagon officials said one immediate goal of this meeting was to ease the tensions that led Pakistan to close the border crossing at Torkham, halting NATO supplies into Afghanistan. Officials on both sides said that acrimony from the border flare-up had already receded, soothed by the multiple apologies that American officials made to Pakistan last week.
Last week, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that General Kayani had assured him that Pakistan’s army would tackle the North Waziristan haven, but on Pakistan’s timetable. In an interview, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said, “Our American partners understand that we have 34,000 troops in North Waziristan. Our soldiers have been engaged in flood relief after history’s worst floods. It is not a question of lack of will.”
The new security pact would have three parts: the sale of American military equipment to Pakistan, a program to allow Pakistani military officers to study at American war colleges and counterinsurgency assistance to Pakistani troops.
Currently, the United States spends about $1.5 billion a year to provide this same assistance, but it is doled out year by year. The new agreement, if endorsed by Congress, would approve a multiyear plan assuring stability and continuity in the programs, although Congress would continue to appropriate the financing on a yearly basis. “This is designed to make our military and security assistance to Pakistan predictable and to signal to them that they can count on us,” said a senior official.
At the last dialogue in Islamabad in July, Mrs. Clinton presented more than $500 million in economic aid, including plans to renovate hospitals, upgrade hydroelectric dams, improve water distribution and help farmers export mangoes. But the floods upended those plans, and officials said they now planned to redirect funds to more urgent needs.
This week’s meeting will also be shadowed by a new eruption of political instability in Pakistan: the government of President Asif Ali Zardari is locked in a confrontation with the Supreme Court over the court’s demand that senior ministers be fired on corruption charges. Analysts said they were less worried about the atmospherics than the underlying differences in perspective. The administration’s public contrition for the cross-border attack has largely resolved that issue, said Daniel S. Markey, senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.
But Mr. Markey said he saw potential friction stemming from the American openness to reconciliation with the Taliban. With the United States facilitating rather than guiding the talks, he said, there could be poor coordination between the Afghans, NATO and others — all of which would rattle the Pakistanis.
“Washington is opening the door to a range of negotiations with groups that it has discouraged Pakistan against working with in the past,” he said. “This sends a mixed signal, and cannot help but encourage hedging on Islamabad’s part.”
Another potential bone of contention is one of President Obama’s nuclear objectives: a global accord to end the production of new nuclear fuel. Pakistan has led the opposition to the accord. And without its agreement, the treaty would be basically useless.
Mr. Qureshi blamed the United States for the situation, saying Washington signed a civilian nuclear accord with India that discriminated against Pakistan. “You have disturbed the nuclear balance,” he said in a recent interview in New York, “and we have been forced to develop a new strategy.”