Pakistanís new normal

Nawaz Sharif's US outreach is hobbled by domestic forces.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has finally "normalised" Pakistan's relations with the US, after two years of rupture caused by an incident on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the killing of Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad. America has issued aid of $1.6 billion, which it had previously blocked, because it wants to get equipment worth $37 billion out of Afghanistan in 2014 with Pakistani help. The big success of Sharif's visit to the US, according to Islamabad, was the resumption of the Pakistan-US strategic dialogue by March 2014. Washington's Stimson Centre has described America's reception of Sharif as "red carpet".

But back home in Pakistan, the "nation" did not want to normalise its relations with the US, unless it stopped its drone strikes against the Taliban-al-Qaeda combine. An all-party conference strengthened Sharif's hand on the drone-related demand because the Taliban, which is the most hurt by the drones, want them stopped. Pakistan thinks the Taliban will not exploit the free run that it will have in the tribal areas if the drone attacks stop by consolidating its hold there, but will sit down honestly to talk peace with Islamabad.

The other issue that arouses passions in Pakistan is the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who was convicted and sentenced to over 80 years in prison by a New York court. On the FBI list of al-Qaeda terrorists for years, this brilliant Pakistani student in the US was lured into terrorism and ended up divorcing her first husband in order to marry a relative of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Aafia has become an icon of Pakistani hatred for America. The Taliban, too, wants to swap an American who was kidnapped from Lahore for her.

The joint statement at the end of Sharif's meeting with US President Barack Obama was positive. It mentioned many energy-related projects that America has undertaken in Pakistan and expressed the latter's intent to enhance the economic dimension of the bilateral equation. The media reported that Pakistan, starting 2001, has received $26 billion from America, out of which $17 billion was soaked up by the Pakistan army. Pakistan's proud "trade not aid" slogan, which Sharif adopted, may be ignored by an increasingly protectionist Washington.

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