Islamabad: Pakistan`s new envoy to the US, former Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, is expected to play a key role in steering bilateral ties ahead of the pull-out of foreign troops from war-ravaged Afghanistan.
Jilani has left for the US and is likely to assume office after the Christmas holidays. He is the first career diplomat to head the mission in Washington after Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, who left in 2004 to represent the UN in Iraq.
Two retired generals, Jehangir Karamat and Mahmud Ali Durrani, and two journalists, Husain Haqqani and Sherry Rehman, were Jilani`s predecessors.
"The posting of a career diplomat to Washington is very important for the morale of those in the Foreign Service. Not to deny the good work done by those after me, but the posting as an Ambassador to the US is the highest foreign posting and it should be a career diplomat," Qazi said.
Jilani will arrive in Washington almost eight months after the previous envoy, Sherry Rehman, quit and returned home when her Pakistan People`s Party lost the general election in May.
US-Pakistan ties have been under strain since May 2011, when Navy SEALs swooped down on a compound in Abbottabad and killed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.?The killing of two Pakistani men by CIA contractor Raymond Davis and a US air raid that killed 28 Pakistani soldiers further strained relations.
The relationship will enter a critical phase in 2014 when Washington withdraws most of its combat troops from Afghanistan. The Pakistani security establishment has claimed that India will fill up the vacuum created by the withdrawal.
Pakistan claims India is using Afghan territory for fomenting unrest in Balochistan, a charge denied by New Delhi.
On the other hand, India is wary of Pakistan`s role in post-2014 Afghanistan, especially the military`s links with militant groups like the Haqqani network, as it believes this will give Islamabad impetus for re-starting the Kashmir jihad.
As Foreign Secretary, Jilani accompanied Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif twice to the US - in September to attend the UN General Assembly and in October for a summit meeting between Sharif and President Barack Obama.
He also visited the US with former Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and attended key meetings with American leaders. Jilani also served at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington during 1995-99, before a stint in New Delhi.