ISLAMABAD: Uncertainty over the resumption of ministerial-level strategic dialogue between Pakistan and United States persists. The dialogue was postponed indefinitely in May last year.
The resumption doesn’t seem possible before the installation of the new administration in Washington after the presidential poll due in November this year. The political situation in Pakistan would also not allow holding the dialogue at least in the first quarter of next year due to general elections in Pakistan.
The third ministerial session of the strategic dialogue was held in Washington in October 2010. The next session was to be held here and US Secretary of State Ms Hillary Clinton had planned to visit Islamabad in May last year but it was postponed due to a rapid deterioration in bilateral ties, which began with the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s (OBL) compound in Abbottabad and worsened further when another raid was conducted on Salala inside Pakistan borders adjacent to Afghanistan, killing twenty-four and injuring sixteen Pakistani soldiers in November last year.
The two countries have reduced the number of working groups previously engaged in deliberations to enhance bilateral cooperation. Five working groups will meet till mid-October as against 13 that met till early last year. The Foreign Office spokesman is hopeful of improvement in relations with the United States but he too is not in position to give any date for the resumption of strategic ministerial talks. In the meanwhile Pakistan and the United States have agreed to hold ministerial-level bilateral talks in the third week of this month. Spokesman Muazzam Ahmad Khan has confirmed that the schedule is being worked out. Special Foreign Secretary Alamgir Khan Babar has been instructed to proceed to Washington next week to prepare ground for the talks.
Well-placed diplomatic sources told The News here Sunday that heads of state of the two countries could meet at the fringes of the 67th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) annual session in New York but no dramatic outcome is expected. It has been indicated that the US President Barrack Obama would impress upon his Pakistani counterpart that Pakistan should provide assistance to the US forces combating in Afghanistan and initiate military operation in North Waziristan. President Zardari is expected to arrive in New York on September 23. The US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland has said earlier “We have been working well with Pakistan in trying to look again at what we can do now that the ground lines of communications (GLOCs) over soil of Pakistan are open to strengthen our counter-terrorism cooperation.”
The two countries had been engaged in dialogue that includes 11 core groups: economy and trade, energy, defence, security, strategic stability and non-proliferation, law enforcement and counter-terrorism, science and technology, education, agriculture, water, health and communication and public diplomacy.
Diplomatic sources said that it may not be possible to revive all these groups but non-security groups may be revived next month. Reconvening security-related groups may take longer. The groups most likely to be resurrected include those dealing with agriculture, energy, trade and water resources.
The sources pointed out that despite tensions, the core groups continued to meet but the minister-level talks have not been held since 2010. The all-important group on energy will be meeting in early October in Washington. The United States also had annual strategic dialogue with India and Afghanistan separately.