Pakistan and the US has just concluded talks this week as part of the sixth round of strategic dialogue between the two countries. But there were hardly surprises.
The US side was led by the Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr Richard Olson.
Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Advisor Sartaj Aziz was also in Washington heading his team. The talks included exchanges over peace in Afghanistan and the role Pakistan could play in bringing the Taliban to the dialogue table. Bilateral cooperation on nuclear issue and relations between Pakistan and India figured. Security and terrorism remained thorny issues between the interlocutors of both sides.
For Islamabad, it was a candid exchange to press the US for acknowledging Pakistan’s counter terrorism efforts going on for the last two years. Indeed operation Zarb-e-azb eliminated terrorists control and command centre in FATA and disrupted their networks across Pakistan dramatically reducing attacks on civilians and important security installations and law enforcement personnel.
Yet the US is still not prepared to give full credit to Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism while lauding what Islamabad has done so far in this regard: It stuck to its mantra of “do more” on Haqqani Network and other militants allegedly focused on Kashmir.
Pakistan’s view remained if really the US believed in negotiated solution to Afghan woes, it needed to allow all Afghan opposition factions including the Haqqanis to come to the table without being annoyed at this juncture. Since the US has dramatically reduced its bases and foot print in Afghanistan, there is no major threat posed to its troops from the Haqqanis either. But Islamabad assured Washington to expand the scope of counter terrorism to include other groups including banned LeT, as affirmed in the public statement issued in the wake of conclusion of the dialogue.
Divergence between the countries was more pronounced in two areas between the countries: co-operation on nuclear issue and addressing Indian concerns on terrorism including a thorough probe into Pathankot incident. Pakistan highlighted its stance as to why the US needs to recognise Its security concerns, it’s limited deterrence including tactical nuclear capability given Indian animosity and strain on its strategic space.
The US side wants to reduce Pakistan’s tactical nuclear expansion. Clearly, there are concerns in Islamabad that the US ultimately wants denuclearised-Iranian solution to Pakistan’s nuclear programme which is a non-option for Pakistan.
On India, Pakistan reiterated its position of unconditional talks on full spectrum of bilateral issues whereas it flagged its full cooperation on Pathankot incident and action against rogue Kashmir focused militants.
The US was more pleased with Pakistan on its facilitating role in the Afghan peace process as Washington believes reconciliation will ultimately reduce level of violence and space for militants including ISIS-affiliates.
The 6th-round of strategic dialogue was preceded by congressional threat of suspension of coalition support fund (CSF) and bar on F16s’s delivery. The narrative congress still hold onto is of a Pakistan still not “doing enough” on counter terrorism and nuclear co-operation. My view remains Pakistan should not have conceded to buying F16s in the first place to deny additional leverage to Congress and hence averting latter’s pressure.
The two countries though have divergence on many issues, the fact remains bilateral relations have avoided dramatics ruptures witnessed during recent past.
The Author is analyst.