US envoy tries to patch up ties with Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The United States is committed to improving its relationship with Pakistan, despite tensions over the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor, the U.S. ambassador told a skeptical audience Monday.In his first major public speech since the Jan. 27 shootings, Cameron Munter spoke of a “renewal” in Pakistani-U.S. relations and noted America’s many humanitarian programs in the country.Pakistan’s cooperation is considered key to stabilizing Afghanistan.Munter’s comments came as Pakistan’s spy chief visited the U.S., where he was to meet with the head of the CIA.”It remains vital to us both to see progress in Pakistan and the region, in the interest of peace, stability and prosperity of Pakistan and its neighbors,” Munter told academics and former diplomats at a think tank in the capital, Islamabad.He later said he wanted to concentrate on “opportunities in the future, not of problems of the past.”

The audience peppered him with questions and comments that revealed how deep suspicion of U.S. motives remains here.One man requested that Munter tell U.S. officials to stop American missile strikes on militant targets on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border. Some questioned whether the U.S. would ever treat Pakistan on par with its archrival India. Others suggested that the U.S. tries to micromanage Pakistani affairs.Munter welcomed the criticism, saying he’d rather Pakistanis be blunt and honest than stay silent.Relations between the United States and Pakistan have always been uneasy, and there are persistent suspicions that Pakistan maintains ties and even supports Taliban groups who battle Western forces in Afghanistan. The White House rarely airs such concerns publicly because of the sensitivity of its alliance with Islamabad.The shootings by the CIA contractor in the eastern city of Lahore both revealed and exacerbated tensions.

Munter expressed regret over the shootings, which resulted in the deaths of three Pakistanis, including one hit by a U.S. vehicle rushing to the scene.The U.S. has steadfastly claimed the American, Raymond Allen Davis, was a staff member of the U.S. embassy, that he had diplomatic immunity from prosecution and that he was acting in self-defense when he shot two armed men he thought were trying to rob him. U.S. officials privately confirmed that Davis was a security contractor with the CIA.Davis was eventually released after his victims’ families agreed to accept financial compensation, but some reports have said that as a result of the debacle, the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency are not cooperating as closely as they once did.

A Pakistani intelligence official on Monday confirmed that ISI chief Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha had arrived in the U.S. for talks with American officials. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.Adding to recent Pakistani-U.S. tensions was a U.S. missile strike that killed more than three dozen people in March.Pakistan’s army chief strongly condemned the strike, saying the drone-fired missiles struck a peaceful meeting of tribal elders near the Afghan border. A U.S. official denied innocent people were targeted.Also, Pakistan last week rejected a White House report’s conclusion that it was not doing enough to stop insurgent movements on its soil, and that it lacked a long-term strategy to stop militancy.