ISLAMABAD— Pakistan says its political and military ties with the United States are on the upswing after nearly two years of setbacks and crises. The country’s defense minister tells VOA that bilateral understanding has also improved on how to counter terrorism in Pakistani border regions and promote political reconciliation in neighboring Afghanistan.
Bilateral cooperation has been gradually improving since July when Pakistan unblocked NATO supply lines into Afghanistan.
The latest demonstration of normalizing ties came earlier this month when the Obama administration notified Congress it would reimburse nearly $700 million to Islamabad for the cost of conducting anti-terrorism operations on the Afghan border.
Pakistani Defense Minister Naveed Qamar tells VOA his country hopes the United States will soon unfreeze other promised military aid to keep the momentum going.
“Things have improved to quite an extent and I would venture out to say that we are back to where we were sometime back, where there is a constant cooperation between the two countries at various levels, political, military, intelligence and so on,” says Qamar.
Pakistan had been receiving around $2 billion in annual security assistance from the United States, including the military reimbursements, called coalition support funds.
But these payments had been held up because of diplomatic tensions over the U.S. raid that eliminated Osama bin Laden, and the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a cross border NATO airstrike in November 2011. That incident had provoked Pakistan to block NATO supply lines and halt all anti-terror cooperation with the United States.
For its part, the United States has been critical of Pakistan's refusal to mobilize troops against bases of the Haqqani network in the country's North Waziristan border region, a safe militant haven being used for cross-border insurgent attacks in Afghanistan.
Better understanding in Washington
Defense Minister Qamar says there is now a better understanding in Washington of his country’s reservations about an all-out war against Islamist militants on its soil.
“In terms of when to do what, it is best left to those who are on the ground so that they can make a good judgment of whether a particular operation will be productive or counter-productive. We do see the U.S. moving closer to the Pakistani position but we need to work hand-in-hand to be able to come to the ultimate objective [of weeding out terrorism]” says Qamar.
Pakistani leaders say that a renewed consultative process between Islamabad and Washington on how to promote Afghan political reconciliation also indicates convergence of views on achieving the common objective of ending the Afghan war.
Islamabad is also apprehensive about an abrupt total pull out by foreign troops from Afghanistan without putting in place a stable political process. Qamar articulated those fears.
“What we expect is that once the U.S. forces leave there should be forces left there that would be able to control the situation. It might be an internal compulsion of the United States government to speed up the withdrawal. But speeding up, again, should not result in a collapse.”
Afghan diplomatic sources in Islamabad also agree that there are clear signs Pakistan has stepped forward to help facilitate the political reconciliation process inside the country. These sources believe this readiness appears to be driven by fears of a spillover of the conflict into Pakistan if the political system in Kabul collapsed following the withdrawal of foreign troops.
At the request of the Afghan government, Islamabad has recently released about a dozen Afghan Taliban leaders from its jails to try to speed up the political reconciliation process and has promised to free dozens of remaining prisoners.