WASHINGTON — The United States and Pakistan are trying to start a new chapter in their long-strained relationship. The two nations will resume their Strategic Dialogue on Monday, and they are hoping to end years of acrimony over such issues as drone strikes and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Since September 11, 2001, U.S. relations with Pakistan have been defined by the fight against terrorism.
The war in Afghanistan has severely strained the bilateral relationship. But now the U.S. is drawing down its troops, and Secretary of State John Kerry says it’s time to resume a strategic dialogue.
“The United States is committed to a long-term partnership with the people of Pakistan,” said Kerry.
Analysts say the Afghan conflict is likely to top the list of concerns when officials from both countries meet in Washington.
President Barack Obama says the goals are clear. “The prime minister and I both agreed that it is in America and Pakistan’s interests for Afghanistan to be stable and secure.”
Analysts say it's time to change the relationship with Pakistan. South Asia expert Dan Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations said, “Rather than seeing Pakistan really as a subset of the Afghanistan war and the counterterrorism campaign, we need to broaden our perspective. We need to think more seriously about how Pakistan fits into U.S. long-term interests in Asia."
Ties were badly hurt when U.S. commandos killed bin Laden in Pakistan.
A constant irritant in the relationship has been American drone strikes aimed at militants in Pakistan along the Afghan border. The number of strikes has been sharply reduced, but that has not stopped the protests. And some NATO supply trucks are still being blocked from entering Afghanistan.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said, "The government of Pakistan has made its position clear - that drone strikes constitute a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.”
The U.S. has pumped billions of dollars of aid into Pakistan, but polls say that has not improved America’s image. Analysts predict aid will be reduced.
James Goldgeier of American University said, “You know Congress is skeptical about spending money anyway. And spending money where it doesn’t seem to be appreciated is going to be a tough sell.”
Pakistan has a large army, and the perceived threat from rival India has driven military strategy.
Analysts say the U.S. is concerned Islamabad is developing tactical nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them.
“You put all these pieces together, not to mention the fact that Pakistan continues to have a deeply entrenched terrorist problem, and you can see that Pakistan is going to be a concern to the United States for certainly years, perhaps generations to come,” said Markey.
So in the short term, the Afghan war will continue to shape U.S.-Pakistan relations.
That is expected to change, however, as the sun sets on America’s military presence in Afghanistan.