ISLAMABAD: When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reaches Washington on Sunday he would not be carrying any grand expectations for the challenging trip – first in five years by a Pakistani premier.
Mr Sharif’s reception at the White House would be less opulent, partly because of the post-government shutdown effects, but largely a reflection of difficulties in bilateral relations over the past few years and continued worries in Washington about the PML-N government’s position on fighting terrorist groups operating from Pakistani soil.
Foreign Office Spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry listed priorities for the trip as highlighting government’s economic development agenda, discussing measures to strengthen bilateral cooperation, seeking to enhance trade and investment and sharing vision for peace and stability in the region.
The priorities for Washington suggest that the prime minister would be seeking to address the Obama administration’s concerns that would shape US policy towards Pakistan as the two countries move towards restoring their ministerial level Strategic Dialogue.
Mr Obama, a source said, would be interested in knowing Mr Sharif’s plans for the region – Afghanistan, India, cross-border terrorism, promoting regional trade and energy linkages.
Significantly, the government has already taken a number of steps for addressing the US concerns about its commitment to fighting terrorism – the recently promulgated ordinance is one such move in this direction. Mr Sharif would, therefore, base his government’s case around the new security laws enacted to deny operational space to terrorists.
The prime minister, speaking about the new anti-terror laws, at a meeting on Friday said: “We have promulgated laws which would deal with the enemies of the state within the framework of our Constitution and based on principles laid down by our founding fathers. Terrorists, target killers and extortionists will be dealt under the law and they will be punished after due process. If terrorists and killers have any understanding of the word of liberty, they will realise its meaning when they will be denied of that under the new law.”
Mr Sharif would at the same time explain the rationale behind pursuing dialogue with Taliban militants in the country.
Unlike some of the high-profile visits from Islamabad to Washington over the past few years, Mr Sharif may not be carrying an elaborate wish list with him except for hopes of getting economic assistance and increased trade.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who last week met US officials in Washington, was given assurances about release of Coalition Support Fund payments and increase in US investments in Pakistan, but sources say that absence of an “institutional bedrock” for anchoring the next phase of bilateral ties could limit the Obama administration’s ability to assist.
Progress in ties would depend greatly on the direction various regional issues – normalisation with India, reconciliation in Afghanistan and drawdown of coalition forces from Afghanistan – take.
Pakistan’s hopes of having a relationship with the United States independent of other happenings in the region may not be fulfilled in near future.