Hillary in Pakistan with a Heavy Agenda

US Secretary of State Hillary ClintonISLAMABAD: Amid serious tensions, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Pakistan today (Thursday) for a two-day visit, with a heavy agenda to give a new direction to Pakistan-US relations and discuss Washington’s “endgame” plan for Afghanistan, besides the role that Islamabad could play for the purpose.

The US secretary of state is likely to be accompanied by CIA chief General David Petraeus and the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E Dempsey. The composition of the American delegation reflects clearly the high importance of the trip, with diplomatic circles saying it would be restricted not only to ties’-repairing-exercise, but US officials would discuss every major issue with their Pakistani counterparts, including the US plan for Afghanistan end game and Islamabad’s role in this regard, the Haqqani Network, operation in North Waziristan, restoration of aid for Pakistan and smooth supply of Coalition Support Fund (CSF) money in the future by Washington.

The senior American officials will meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ISI Chief Lt General Ahmad Shuja Pasha and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Clinton will also address a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Hina Khar on Friday. In recent days, particularly during the visit to Islamabad by special US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman, the US andPakistan gained significant ground in their endeavours to improve bilateral ties and revive the counter-terrorism cooperation.

However, the visit of US secretary of state to Islamabad is crucial keeping in view the serious nature of differences between the two states, as the ties between them have been at the lowest ebb before the recent reconciliation efforts due to the May 2 Abbottabad raid. Even before the May 2 incident, Islamabad and Washington were at bad terms as a result of detention of CIA contractor Raymond Davis in Lahore earlier this year.

As a result of these conflicting issues, the US suspended military aid meant for Islamabad, which in return dispatched dozens of American military trainers and CIA operatives back to their country.Off late, US officials also started blaming the ISI for sponsoring terrorism in Afghanistan, which was responded by strong protest by Pakistani authorities with a clear warning to US to refrain from any military action on Pakistani soil, as it would lead to catastrophic consequences.

“This is a crucial visit by Clinton to Islamabad and it is going to determine the direction of future ties between Pakistan and the United States. No doubt some ground has been covered during the recent visit of Grossman and through diplomatic channels to break the ice, but the nature of problems is so serious that such a high profile visit was needed to give thrust to these efforts and revive the bilateral cooperation against terrorism as it was before the recent batch patch in the ties of two states,” said a Pakistani diplomat requesting anonymity.

He said the US authorities were likely to discuss in a frank and candid manner what role Pakistan could play for the success of US end game plan in Afghanistan and also how to deal with the powerful Haqqani Network and in return what they could offer to Islamabad.“We believe they are coming for a ‘give and take’ on these important issues and the response to that by Islamabad will shape the future ties between the two countries,” the diplomat said.The foreign policy analysts also attach great significance to the visit of US secretary of state to Pakistan.Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi said no doubt it was an important visit owing to its timing and keeping in view the conflicting matters, which were not new but still of serious nature.

“The agenda of this visit, I think will be to exert as much pressure on Pakistan as possible so that it can fall in line and help Washington achieve its goals in Afghanistan,” he told Pakistan Today.Another Pakistani official, who sought anonymity, said Pakistani authorities would seek clarity in US policy for Afghanistan and also apprise the American officials about their concerns over growing Indian influence in the war-torn country.“Pakistan is willing to play its role as it has been doing for years now for lasting peace in Afghanistan, but at the same time, it also expects the US to take care of its genuine concerns in that country,” he said. – PT