Hina Rabbani Khar goes to Washington to salvage Pak-US ties


September 20, 2012

WASHINGTON: Pakistan's savvy and striking foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar arrived here on Wednesday to restore her country's battered image and kiss and make up with the United States.

September 20, 2012

WASHINGTON: Pakistan's savvy and striking foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar arrived here on Wednesday to restore her country's battered image and kiss and make up with the United States.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar met with U.S. Senate leaders on Wednesday. Senator Dianne Feinstein and members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Even as some American lawmakers pressed for punitive measures to reprimand Islamabad for its continued ties to terrorists and betraying the US.

Even though Pakistan remains under the gun following the designation of its Haqqani proxies as a global terrorist group and its patronage of extremists groups, including those making a bonfire of US interests, the two sides have retrieved some ground from days when ties reached a nadir and Islamabad cut off Nato supply lines following the Salala attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan reversed the decision several months down the line, and in recent weeks, it has been rewarded with nearly $ 2 billion in Coalition Support Fund back payments, enabling its economy to hold off a meltdown.

Rabbani's trip to the US, to be followed by visits by President Zardari and the de facto ruler, superannuated military strongman Pervez Ashfaq Kayani in the next few weeks, is expected to build on that as the two sides attempt to restore a semblance of normalcy. Describing it as a "a long-expected visit," a state department official said Khar and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will cover the "full range of issues we have with Pakistan…including our continuing effort to get our counterterrorism activities back up and running fully."

The official put a positive spin on the meeting, telling correspondents that Secretary Clinton and Khar "have had a very strong relationship" and this is going to be at least their fourth meeting, "They have both rolled up their sleeves to try to stabilize and strengthen the relationship, and I think this is a good opportunity, obviously, for them to take stock of where we are and continue to try to move forward," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.

But there is less enthusiasm on the Hill despite Pakistan's attempt to gee up some support by convening a meeting last week of the 50-member Pakistani-American caucus, it's first in some five years. While many lawmakers are loath to be associated with the country indelibly linked with terrorism, some of them have been persistently demanding that it be punished for continually working against American interests, something U.S government officials prefer to gloss over to maintain a semblance of a relationship. Lawmakers are particularly upset over Pakistan's incarceration of a doctor who assisted the CIA in eliminating Osama bin Laden.

Last week, Congressman Ted Poe introduced a bill in the House aimed at divesting Pakistan of the major non-NATO ally (MNNA) status. "It's time to break with Pakistan, but at the very least, we should stop providing them the eligibility to obtain our own sophisticated weaponry in an expedited process. Too many of our own men and women have died because of Islamabad's treachery," Poe said, explaining his move. Pakistan was designated a non-Nato ally by then Secretary of State Colin Powell under the Bush administration.

Another lawmaker, Senator Rand Paul, issued a 'Dear Colleague' letter earlier this week urging members to pass the bill which seeks to cut all foreign aid to any country that "fails to secure" US embassies, in a reference to the latest conflagration arising from the Islamophobic film, reaction to which Islamabad is unable or unwilling to control. "First, we must demand accountability from the government of Pakistan, which receives over USD 3 billion from us every year, yet routinely plays both sides of some of the most important issues while openly thwarting our objectives in the region," Paul wrote.

In fact, ahead of Khar's visit, one US commentator suggested that Pakistan may have been directly responsible for last week's attack on the U.S Camp Bastion in Afghanistan that resulted in the destruction of six US. Harrier jump-jets and the killing of a US Marine lieutenant colonel in charge of a Harrier squadron.

"Even the most experienced and best funded of our opponents in Afghanistan, such as the Pakistani-sponsored Haqqani network, would presumably have great difficulty in pulling off such an operation without considerable assistance. It seems likely that the special forces of a professional army planned the raid, and trained, advised, and led the raiders — that is if they did not actually take part in it," Jonathan Foreman wrote in the National Review, adding, "Those special forces would, of course, be those of Pakistan."

But State Department officials and some lawmakers such as Senator John Kerry have a much more charitable and benign view of Pakistan, maintaining that it is in US interest to remain engaged with the country rather than seek to isolate it, a policy that New Delhi has also embraced. In fact, Khar's US visit has been buttressed by her recent initiatives with New Delhi.

During her four-day visit, Khar will hold talks with Hillary Clinton and also discuss bilateral ties with US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and USAID Chief Rajiv Shah. She is also expected to meet several lawmakers on the Hill to smooth way for Pakistan's return to US favors. She will be accompanied by Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman. The two women present a notional liberal face of a country that is seemingly over-run by hard-line militarists and extremists.

Courtesy: TNN