Islamabad: US diplomatic efforts to persuade
Pakistan to reopen NATO supply lines to the Afghan war are
proving no match for rampant anti-Americanism here, with
Pakistani lawmakers increasingly unwilling to support a
decision that risks them branded as friends of Washington.
Opposition legislators are demanding that the US end its
drone strikes against militants as a precondition,
complicating US strategies for winding down the 10-year war
just weeks before a major NATO conference in President Barack
Obama`s hometown of Chicago.
Relations between the US and Pakistan have been marked by
mistrust since the two countries were thrust together
following the September 11, 2001 attacks, but shared
interests, near-bankrupt Pakistan needs American aid, America
needs Pakistan`s support against al-Qaeda, had kept the
alliance more or less intact.
That changed in November when US airstrikes inadvertently
killed 24 Pakistani troops on the Afghan border, triggering
nationwide outrage and retaliation from Pakistan, which
suspended diplomatic contacts and blocked vital land routes
for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Since then, hardline Islamist and banned militant groups
have staged large rallies around the country against any move
to reopen the supply lines.
One of the leaders of the movement has been Hafiz Mohammad
Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group blamed for
the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166
Yesterday, the US announced a USD 10 million reward for
information leading to the arrest of Saeed, who lives openly
According to many analysts, Saeed has the sympathy or
support of the country`s powerful military establishment,
which shares his hostility to India. The announcement could
therefore be seen as a provocation in Pakistan and further
strain ties with Washington.
Bilateral relations have been hit by a string of crises
since last year, including the killing of two Pakistani men by
a CIA contractor and the US raid against Osama bin Laden in
Abbottabad in May.
Observers said the bounty for Saeed, who is now among the
five most wanted men in the world, would add to the strains in
In the past, Pakistan has said it has no evidence linking
the Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief to terrorism.
Nides, who travelled to Pakistan following a series of
meetings between top US and Pakistani leaders on the margins
of multilateral conferences, said he was visiting Islamabad at
a "pivotal time" as the two countries engaged in discussions
about the "future of this very, very important relationship".
He said he intended to build on talks that have taken
place between President Asif Ali Zardari and Special
Representative Marc Grossman in Dushanbe and President Barack
Obama and premier Gilani in Seoul over the last 10 days.
"As President Obama said last week when he met Prime
Minister Gilani, we believe that we can achieve a balanced
approach in a relationship that respects Pakistan`s
sovereignty and interests but also represents our concerns
about our national security," he said.
A "sustained engagement is the most productive way
forward" and there was too much at stake "for us to turn away
from each other, so we must work through all of these
challenges", Nides said.
The US also shares the desire for a stable, secure and
peaceful Afghanistan, he added.
The completion of Pakistan`s parliamentary review would
offer an opportunity to ensure the relationship is "enduring,
strategic and more clearly defined", Nides said.
"We have different perspectives. And we will where we have
those, seek to find solutions that respect each other`s
interests," he said.