The gap between Pakistan’s state policy and public aspirations, in the context of Pak-US relations, is quite wide. The most important issue that America and Pakistan are together seized with at the moment is post 2014 Afghanistan. And this is an area where gap between public sentiment and state policy is the maximum. After meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, US Secretary of State John Kerry said they had agreed to re-establish a “full partnership.” 

“I want to emphasise the relationship is not defined simply by the threats we face, it is not only a relationship about combating terrorism, it is about supporting the people of Pakistan, particularly helping at this critical moment for Pakistan's economic revival,” Kerry told reporters. “It is also no secret that along this journey in the last few years we have experienced a few differences,” he added.

Of drone attacks, Kerry said: “I think the President (Barack Obama) has a very real timeline and we hope it is going to be very, very soon.” However, Michael Kugelman, an analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre, said he believed “Washington had no intention of ending drone strikes in Pakistan before the end of 2014.” Back home, meanwhile, US officials also immediately sought to downplay Kerry’s remarks. The US State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said that the number of drone strikes had declined owing to the drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan and because of progress in curtailing al-Qaeda threat. “Today, the Secretary referenced the changes that we expect to take place in that programme over the course of time, but there is no exact timeline to provide,” she stated. On the other hand, when asked whether Pakistan wanted the US to curtail the strikes, Foreign Affairs Adviser, Sartaj Aziz, said: “We are asking them to stop it, not just curtail it.”

As a matter of policy, America is scaling back the weapon launching usage of drones the world over, while expanding its surveillance role. The US drone strikes in Pakistan have fallen significantly over the past two and a half years - so far, totalling 17 this year as compared to 48 in 2012 and 73 in 2011 - according to the data compiled by the New America Foundation.

Secretary Kerry announced the re-launching of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, focused on security, economic and development issues, which broke down in 2010. Pakistan’s Energy Minister has said that the Secretary has indicated about the possibility of a civil nuclear deal between the two countries akin to the Indo-US Agreement 123. Reportedly, he claimed that the US will extend every possible assistance to Pakistan to help it execute more power projects and overcome the energy crisis.

Of Afghanistan, he maintained that the fates of Pakistan and Afghanistan were intertwined, and they need to undertake united efforts to resolve the issue of safe havens. His visit focused on ways to revive the deadlocked Doha talks and coordinate broader efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, as the US-led occupation forces prepare to pull out most of their combat troops by late 2014. He said a peaceful Afghanistan was in the interest of not only Pakistan, but also the entire region. He also acknowledged that 40,000 Pakistanis had sacrificed their lives in the ongoing war on terror and, therefore, Pakistan needs to overcome the extremist threats from within.

As the issue of extremist groups operating in Pakistan was a priority of the talks, the Congress was told about American contradictions while handling the Taliban in Afghanistan. Mr John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, in a covering letter accompanying a 236-page report (SIGAR audit 13-15) wrote: “I am deeply troubled that the US military can pursue, attack and even kill terrorists and their supporters, but that some in the US government believe we cannot prevent these same people from receiving a government contract.” He identified 46 such cases in his report!

Another bone of contention between the two counties is the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. The USA has been pressuring Pakistan to abandon the project that it signed with Iran in 2009. When this project was signed, natural gas was not part of the American sanctions’ statute; it was added to the list in 2013.

America has shown flexibility towards implementing sanction law with India and other Central Asian Republics, who are currently meeting their energy needs from Iran. For IP project, this law is any way not relevant, because agreement was signed before the amended American law was enacted.

Bilateral relations between the two countries are poised to stay tumultuous for short to medium term. On its part Pakistan is making all out effort to bridge the gap between the Afghan Taliban and America on one hand and Afghan Taliban and Karzai administration on the other hand. As the time is running out, Taliban, America and Karzai government need to narrow down their perceptional gaps about post 2014 Afghanistan. 

It is in the interest of America and Pakistan to sustain functional bilateral relationship and cooperate in stabilising Afghanistan. It is a complicated and important relationship. Both, the US and Pakistan have much to gain in fixing their relationship.  Pakistan needs US investment, and the US needs stability in Pakistan as it strives to affect a sustainable transition in Afghanistan.

America owes a responsibility to the international community for leaving behind a stable Afghanistan. Side by side, the onus squarely rests with the UN Security Council (UNSC). It authorised the entry of foreign forces into Afghanistan, it must come forth to manage the fallout of their exit. It should start in-house deliberations to evolve a backup contingency plan to induct its peace-keeping mission if America-Taliban-Karzai rapprochement does not materialise. In such an eventuality, the 2014 elections in Afghanistan should be under UN supervision.  Pakistan and America need to discuss this and formulate a timeline-based workable plan of action to take the UNSC on board, say by mid 2014.

Kugelman has rightly assessed: “Behind the bonhomie, trouble lurks.......Instead of depicting Kerry's Pakistan visit as a prelude to an extended period of goodwill, we should simply regard it as a respite from the tensions.”

    The writer is a freelance columnist.