Pakistan's foreign minister says he wants Wednesday's day-long series of meetings with U.S. officials in Washington to result in a fundamental change in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, and that could include a further expansion of military relations. But the Pentagon cautioned against expectations of any specific announcements regarding aid or equipment sales.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmoud Qureshi was on Capitol Hill Tuesday, meeting with members of Congress in advance of his meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior administration officials at Wednesday's Strategic Dialogue.
The Reuters News Agency quotes him as saying the dialogue is part of an effort "to bring about a qualitative difference" in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, changing it into what he called a "partnership." He is quoted as saying he presented a "clear plan" to accomplish that. Reuters reports Pakistan submitted a 56-page document ahead of the talks, which outlines what the country wants in such a partnership, including armed unmanned military aircraft and financial aid for its economy and infrastructure.
Pakistan is also believed to want a civilian nuclear power agreement with the United States, like the one India has.
But here at the Pentagon, Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said he does not expect specific announcements, at least on military programs. "I think it would be a mistake to in any way characterize it as a discussion of requests and replies. This is much broader than that. This is an attempt that really began very early in the Obama Administration to broaden, deepen and strengthen our long-term strategic relationship," he said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke about the upcoming meetings on Monday, echoing Minister Qureshi's desire to significantly improve relations, but not providing any details. "What we are interested in is looking at the long term in the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, how we can strengthen our relationship and how we can help Pakistan in dealing with the security challenges that face them but also face us and NATO as well," he said.
After decades of mistrust, U.S.-Pakistan relations have improved in recent years, and there have been further improvements in recent months, as Pakistan has increased its efforts to defeat al-Qaida, the Taliban and related militant groups operating on its soil. The United States has responded with military sales and increased aid, including a $7.5-billion package last year. Many in Pakistan believe it is time for more U.S. recognition of the country's cooperation, in the form of a further aid increase, and more high-technology military equipment.
But for some experts it's still not necessarily a clear picture. They note that some members of Pakistan's intelligence service appear to still be helping the Taliban in an apparent effort to prevent the new Afghan government from becoming too strong. And recent reports have questioned the motivations for Pakistan's recent arrests of senior Taliban leaders, saying it could be seeking to influence reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan.
Morrell would not comment on any of that, but he did say this about U.S. and Pakistani goals regarding Afghanistan. "I think, broadly speaking, that the Pakistanis share the desire to live in peace and security with their neighbors. And an essential component to that is for there to be progress made against the terrorists that are trying to undermine efforts towards developing greater peace and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.
But, without being specific, Morrell acknowledges that all sides might not agree on what he called "every particular tactical decision."
Wednesday's dialogue will be co-chaired by Minister Qureshi and Secretary Clinton, but it will also include a prominent role for senior defense officials and military officers, including the chief of the Pakistani Army and the top U.S. military officer.