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Clinton’s damage control trip

Filed on May 29, 2011

The much anticipated but unexpected arrival of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Pakistan is especially significant since relations between the two allies took a nosedive in recent weeks.

In a highly charged atmosphere with aspersions being cast Pakistan’s side, of complicity or failure of security and intelligence, the United States now seem to have adopted a conciliatory approach. Secretary Clinton, by giving a clean bill to the top leadership in Pakistan concerning knowledge of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts may have paved the way for rapid damage control of the battered bilateral relations. Reiterating America’s “strong commitment” to relations with Pakistan, she also acknowledged the country’s essential involvement in neighbouring Afghanistan in order for any peace deal to succeed. However, she emphasised the need to do more together since the allied states’ war on terror has reached a turning point.

While this may be the tip of the iceberg with more laden messages having been delivered from the White House in private, one can gauge what Washington will be pressuring Pakistan on next. Prior to Clinton’s visit it was learnt that the US had agreed to the demand of the Pakistan government to reduce the number of US military personnel — apparently for imparting training in counter insurgency to Pakistani security forces — in the country. This may have been done to appease Pakistan since the government’s image took a bashing of sorts with the Abbottabad operation both at home and abroad. Even before May 2, the incident of US special sgent Raymond Davis had led to scathing exchange of words and enraged demands from Pakistan for the US to disclose and cut its covert operators in the country.

Even though Clinton’s visit may smooth the estranged relations to some extent, the basic issue of mistrust between the two states, particularly their intelligence and security apparatus, remains. How Pakistan may change its strategy given the immense pressure it faces after Bin laden and the recent embarrassing attack on its Naval base in Karachi remains to be seen. The US has been over the past one year pressuring Pakistan to launch a military offensive in North Waziristan where the Afghan insurgents are believed to be present. With the July start of the exit deadline looming large for the US forces, Pakistan will be expected to apply pressure on the Afghan insurgency from the border.

It is hoped that the two are able to reach a workable military strategy that is cognisant of regional dynamics and the environment. More significant is the need to work out a political strategy in order to allow room for the insurgents to come on board in line with national aspirations and for regional peace.


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