Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif embarked upon a visit to the U.S. with huge hopes behind him domestically and tough demands in front of him in Washington. Demands from U.S. could potentially be tough as it plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan next year after a 12-year long military campaign, the costliest in world history. The war has taken the heaviest toll on the U.S. economy.
The timing of his visit is crucial since both the countries must consider the immediate requirements for improving regional security situation and their own interests in the face of U.S. and NATO forces withdrawal from Afghanistan. Washington needs comprehensive support from Pakistan to ensure a safe exit of its troops from Afghanistan where they are the target of ever increasing attacks from Taliban, especially since the Obama administration announced the U.S. troop withdrawal. In addition, Washington needs certain guarantees that Islamabad will protect U.S. interests in the region in this post-U.S. military scenario. Pakistanis expect Sharif to support national unity and solidarity, compromised previously by a military dictator General Musharraf when he jumped into the U.S. war on terror after a phone call from Washington, not heavily considering the repercussions of his country’s security.
A high price to pay
Fighting the U.S. war brought Pakistan to the brink of a civil war, not to mention a huge loss of lives from Pakistan Army’s operations in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that border Afghanistan. The tribesmens’ retaliation by car bomb also left hundreds of army officers and officials dead. Additionally, several enemy agencies also jumped into the troubled waters and wreaked havoc by bombing public places, taking a huge toll on civilian lives. Moreover, Washington began drone attacks in FATA areas which are still ongoing, despite protests from Pakistan and disapproval worldwide. Thus far over 300 drone attacks have killed nearly 500,000 people. Of that number, only 1% was Al-Qaeda operatives or Taliban members. The rest were civilians, mostly women and children. Vital questions are still unanswered as to why U.S. invaded and destroyed Afghanistan for the crimes of two individuals, what the actual motives of the war were, including who its real beneficiaries were, why the September 11 attacks investigations report was kept secret and also why the war was started before thorough investigations into the September 11 incident had concluded.
Those questions aside, the need of the hour is to rid Afghanistan from three decades of wars and civil wars and provide its citizens with lasting peace that they deserve. A representative government must be established in Kabul, one which could have friendly ties with the outside world, eliminate terrorism inside its borders and forbid its territories to be used for aiding terrorist activity outside its borders. Similarly, people of Pakistan who have fallen victim to others’ war also deserve peace. Pakistani intelligence has solid proof regarding the involvement of some Western countries and its eastern neighbor, India, in the insurgency in Baluchistan province and bombings in public places elsewhere in the country. Regardless, Washington have always supported India against Pakistan, ignoring Islamabad’s matchless sacrifices on the frontline on the in war on terror which has lost over 70,000 lives and cost over $90bn in the 12 year period. Washington provided civil nuclear technology to India and ignored Pakistan’s request despite the fact that Pakistan badly suffers from power shortages. If Washington grants Pakistan nuclear capability, it can help Pakistan with major problems related to internal and external security, the economic depression caused by U.S. sanctions, and the power crisis.
Sadly, Washington has always ignored Pakistan on these issues and instead demanded it to do more for supporting war on terror. Washington’s cold shoulder to Pakistan still continues as U.S. officials recently refrained from receiving Prime Minister Sharif at the airport despite the fact he holds the portfolios of the foreign and defense. He was received by the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson, while Obama waited two days to meet him. Additionally, Nawaz was not accorded the status of official guest and he had to stay in a hotel on his own expenses. Washington has never trusted Pakistan’s secret agencies for their alleged support to militant groups and Afghan Taliban.
One key Pakistani official, an advisor on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, is quoted as saying prior to Nawaz Sharif’s U.S. visit, Washington asked him two key questions. The first; whether Pakistan would help Taliban if they try to regain power in Kabul after U.S. withdrawal. The second, if Nawaz enjoyed complete support of the military establishment. In addition, demands to release of alleged U.S. spy, Shakil Afridi, who ran a mock WHO vaccination campaign to trace Osama Bin Laden, also came up during the visit.
Pakistan needs to be repaid for its sacrifices rendered for Washington’s interests in the shape of lifting sanctions and assisting Pakistan with its energy requirements. Otherwise, the growing U.S. hatred among Pakistanis will continue. U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is only months away and it was high time Washington lay down the foundations of a new friendly relationship with Pakistan.
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar