Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has returned from his first visit to the USA to meet in his third term the US President, with precious little to show in terms of tangible agreements by the USA, but with the satisfaction of having raised all of the issues that he needed to. However, such has been the US focus on its impending withdrawal from Afghanistan, that it overshadowed all other issues.

One problem that Mian Nawaz suffered was that of expectation. It was not so much that they were heightened by the Pakistani people, as they were misplaced. Mian Nawaz was not invited to Washington because the US President expected him to beat him up, throw him on the floor and make him submit to his demands with a dagger pointed at his throat. He had to remain within the bounds of diplomatic norms, and he must have been made to realize the truth of the saying that a country’s diplomatic weight is determined by its national power. That means that the debate over diplomatic skill is esoteric, with the best illustration being the USA itself, with its position as the world’s sole superpower being determined by the resources at its disposal, not its skillful diplomats.

Perhaps Mian Nawaz would profit from a look at the timing, for not only did the withdrawal loom ahead in the future, but Mian Nawaz landed in the USA almost immediately after the ‘temporary fix’ that allowed the end of the federal government shutdown that also threatened a default of the US dollar. It was perhaps a recognition of the strength of the USA’s real economy that led to his demand for trade concessions. That demand, like others, was not reciprocated. At this time of US belt-tightening, the announcement that held-up aid would be disbursed was particularly significant. The USA had clearly moved beyond simply buying Pakistan. Now voting the money, and paying out the funds, are clearly two separate actions, to be used on separate occasions to reward separate acts by Pakistan. Pakistan should expect more of this in future, and should also realize that the US crisis is not really one of its economy, but of its government’s finances. Aid in future will be increasingly used as a tool.

Another aspect of the timing was that Mian Nawaz met Obama almost immediately after Malala Yousafzai met Queen Elizabeth II in London. But perhaps more significant than that was the revelation that the USA routinely tapped millions of phonecalls in supposedly allied countries, not to forget the phones of their leaders. If the USA could tap the German Chancellor’s phone, Mian Nawaz could be almost certain that his was too.

It was also to be noted that Mian Nawaz was meeting Obama just ahead of naming a joint chiefs chairman, and a new army chief. Both are appointments in which the US government takes a deep interest, because of the War on Terror. It must be remembered that the second tenure given to COAS Gen Ashfaque Pervez Kiyani was on the recommendation of Obama’s previous Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, while the previous US Joint Chiefs Chairman, Adm Mike Mullen, had a special relationship with the recently retired Pakistani Chairman, Gen Khalid Shamim Wyne. However, the degree to which the USA wishes to appear involved in something that is as much a matter of Pakistan’s sovereignty as the lives of its citizens, is to be seen.

Perhaps the most important demand he made was that of the drone strikes. Though this demand was not accepted, at least it was made. The official US response was as if nothing had been said, but it was no coincidence that there had been first the release of an Amnesty International report saying that drone strikes could constitute war crimes, then by a media report after the talks saying that Pakistani officials were on board. The USA has been very firm both in its support for the trial of war crimes and for the exemption of its own nationals from such trial. Thus any suggestions of the possibility of its nationals facing such an accusation is taken very seriously, and it is probably the reason why Pakistani officials are also being shown as complicit, and thus not just guilty of violating the sovereignty of their own country, but also of sharing in the war crime accusation.

At the same time, it seems that the USA has agreed not to make any announcement, but to stop the drone strikes. It seems that here too it has been rated more important by the USA to thus retain the theoretical capacity to launch drone strikes, while ceding Pakistan the substance. As with the Salala incident, when US gunship helicopters gunned down 24 Pakistani soldiers, the USA finds it almost impossible to say sorry, to ‘grovel’, especially before a Third-World country. When Mian Nawaz returned, the USA carried out a drone strike almost at once, showing that it was not compromising on its desires.

That seems of a piece with the raising of the Afia Siddiqui issue, which was answered by the USA raising the Dr Shakil Afridi issue. That a spy for the USA is being equated with a Pakistani national, and that the US justice system is being equated with the Frontier Crimes Regulation, apparently does not bother anyone in the USA.

One of the matters on which the talks seem to have moved, though not to any conclusive effect, has been that of relations with India. It is almost as if Pakistan has acquiesced in the value the USA has placed on India. There was virtually no mention of the biggest evidence of the US tilt towards India, and of its shift in South Asia, the civilian nuclear deal with India. That, along with the sanctions it has slapped on Iran, and the continued hounding of North Korea, shows how the USA wants, as part of its role as sole superpower, to be the sole arbiter of nuclear power in the world. As a nuclear power, Pakistan is naturally interested in this. Apart from its need of nuclear power to supply it power generation needs, it also needs Iranian gas to provide its power plants much needed fuel. That is a project which may fall afoul of US sanctions. As the talks went, Mian Nawaz apprised Obama of why Pakistan was going ahead with this. How exactly the sanctions are to be interpreted, does not really matter, especially when one of the parties doing the interpreting sees fit to attack the other with missiles launched from pilotless aircraft, and kill its citizens to boot, on the plea that they were terrorists, though no judicial authority had found them guilty. The USA will not stop Pakistan not because it realizes the fairness of Pakistan’s position, but if it sees the pipeline as somehow advancing the cause of a US corporation. Yegtit cannot entirely be a coincidence that the Iranian Oil Minister announced after the visit that the project is almost dead.

Whereas the meeting was not just a photo-op, it did not yield the results expected of it. At this point, Pakistan needs to realize that it cannot change the USA’s view of the world and of the region. However, it can decide whether it is willing to play the part given to it in the US script. Mian Nawaz should have learnt what that part is, and how far it is compatible with national survival, when it gives such a large part to India, a power which has never accepted the right of Pakistan to exist.

The writer is a veteran journalist  and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.