US Secretary of State Hillary Clintons recent visit to Pakistan, as a follow up to the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the two countries in New York at the commencement of the UN General Assembly session, was basically meant to narrow the gaps between their Afghan policies and to put the bilateral relations, which had been badly damaged by the US operation to get Osama bin Laden, back on track. A well orchestrated campaign of accusations by Washington of Pakistans collusion with the Taliban, particularly the Haqqani group, preceded the visit to build up pressure on Pakistan to force it to fall in line with the US demands for denying safe havens to the Taliban. It appears from the published and unpublished reports that Hillary Clintons visit was a partial success from the American point of view. While there was broad convergence of views of the two countries on the need for talks, reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan, one sensed continued differences on the modalities for achieving these goals, with the Americans focusing more on military action against the Taliban and the Pakistani side emphasising the need for talks with them. Thus, the jury is still out on whether the visit really succeeded in putting the strained Pakistan-US relations back on track. The Americans finally seem to have concluded that a military victory in Afghanistan is beyond their reach. This recognition, however, has come after paying a heavy price in men and material during the decade long war in Afghanistan. Even now the US emphasis is on military means, rather than bold political initiatives in dealing with the continuing conflict in Afghanistan. They also persist on treating the Taliban as terrorists, instead of seeing them as a political group vying for power in Afghanistan. This is clear from the grudging offers of talks to the Taliban loaded with conditions - some of which obviously would be unacceptable to them. For the talks to have any chance of success, they have got to be unconditional with the understanding that they should lead to the end of fighting, a government enjoying broad-based support among the Afghan people and durable peace in the country. The Americans have no right to rule in or rule out any legitimate Afghan group from participation in these talks whether they be the Taliban (despite their obscurantism) or others. It is for the Afghans to decide who will rule them and not for any foreign power to make this decision on their behalf. The second point that needs to be brought home to the Americans is that their military presence has become a major obstacle in the restoration of durable peace in Afghanistan. The rally in Kabul of hundreds of Afghans on October 24 shouting slogans of death to America and death to NATO should be an eye opener for American policymakers. The same message was delivered by the car bomber attack, which killed 13 American troops in Kabul on October 29. The American and other coalition forces are increasingly seen by the Afghans as occupation forces. But this does not mean that the Americans should withdraw their forces from Afghanistan precipitately and in an unplanned manner because that would, most probably, prolong the civil war in the country. There is also the risk that Afghanistans neighbours would be sucked into this civil war, as was the case in 1990s. Instead, the US should announce a categorical and early deadline for the total withdrawal of all the foreign military forces from Afghanistan. Simultaneously, it should take steps to initiate talks among the Afghan parties to reach a political settlement on the future shape of the country. Most probably, this would involve amendments to the Afghan Constitution to make it generally acceptable to the Afghans. For the Americans to demand that the participants of the talks should accept the Afghan Constitution in its present shape amounts to deciding for the Afghans their future political dispensation. One wonders what the purpose of the talks among the Afghan parties would be, if they cannot discuss the future shape of their country. The Americans do have a point when they demand that an outcome of the proposed talks should be the abandonment of Al-Qaeda, which is generally seen by most of the international community as a terrorist organisation with international agenda. Both as a matter of principle and because of the huge loss of life and material that Pakistan has suffered at the hands of terrorists, it should extend full support to the Americans in the fight against Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. What is problematic is the perennial American demand that Pakistan should take military action against the Afghan Taliban, particularly the Haqqani group, while simultaneously expecting Pakistan to bring them to the negotiating table. This is both unfair because of its adverse effects on Pakistans security and illogical since Pakistan would lose whatever influence it has on theses groups, if it launches military operations against them. The point somewhat seems to have sunk into American thinking, as reflected by Hillary Clintons recent remarks that the US was not asking Islamabad to take overt military action against the Taliban and the Haqqani group. Rather the American expectation is that Pakistan would squeeze the Taliban and the Haqqani group by other means, like sharing of intelligence to intercept planned attacks emanating from FATA, prevention of transfer of funds and supplies to them, etc. The main positive outcome of Hillary Clintons visit to Pakistan was the agreement to work out modalities and the sequence of the peace process in Afghanistan that is Afghan-led. Pakistan has agreed to facilitate talks with the Taliban through tri-logue involving the Afghanistan government, the US and Pakistan. It remains for the officials of the countries concerned to flesh out the details of the work plan for such talks, particularly their format, participants, objectives, etc. Hopefully, the planned conferences in Istanbul to be held tomorrow and in Bonn early next month would result in the finalisation of a generally acceptable work plan for the peace talks in Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton arrived in Islamabad with a tough message expecting Pakistan to work with the US in fighting the militants, talking with them and building the region with particular emphasis on denying the Taliban safe havens in FATA. By the time she left Pakistan, there was increased recognition of the difficulties that Pakistan faced in overt military action against the Taliban because of security considerations and the need to commence talks with the Taliban. The American emphasis is now more on squeezing the Taliban than on overt military action against them. This makes sense, as explained earlier. Clintons visit definitely helped in defusing tensions between the two countries. However, all is still not well, as was made amply clear by the complaint made publicly by ISPR a few days ago that Pakistan had not been taken into confidence about the Afghan peace process and its objectives. One gets the same impression from the continued complaints by the US generals about Pakistans alleged support to the Taliban. Undoubtedly, Afghanistan has become a major stumbling block in the strengthening of Pakistan-US relations. The need of the hour is for Islamabad and Washington to reach an agreement not only on their vision of the future of Afghanistan, but also on the modalities for realising that vision through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. A lot will depend on the success of the two sides in working out mutually agreed operational strategies to persuade the various Afghan parties to join the negotiations for national reconciliation. Till that is done, Pakistan-US relations will remain subject to strains. The writer is a retired ambassador. Email: