President Zardari’s decision to opt out of visiting Iran a day after his spokesman Farhatullah Babar had confirmed to the Iranian news agency IRNA that he would stop over in Tehran for a day for talks on bilateral and regional issues has, understandably, given rise to speculations about the motives behind it. The belated official report that visit to Iran was not scheduled to take place at this time has received little public credence and so has the supporting argument that the itinerary included England, France and Turkey and visiting another country in the five-day trip was not possible. If anything, finding time for signing the badly needed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline agreement – reportedly the purpose of stay in Tehran – should have been his priority. One reason for the cancellation of the visit, political observers believe, was the US pressure for not going ahead with concluding such a lucrative deal for Iran in view of the row over its programme of nuclear enrichment. And there appears to be a lot of weight in the logic; for, the past week has witnessed a flurry of activity by US diplomatic circles to suggest that the phase of frayed Pak-US relations was finally over and to prove the point the two countries were moving fast to give a concrete shape to their vision of mutually beneficial relations.

Relevant in this context were the ‘renewed strategic commitments’ by the Pakistan-US Defence Consultative Group, which met at Islamabad last Monday and Tuesday. The two sides agreed to enhance military ties “on a prioritised set of Pakistan’s defence requirements”. A Pakistani delegation would go to Washington early next year to finalise the deal. It was also learnt that Islamabad would get $700 million in Cooperative Support Fund by next March; already it has received around $1.2 billion during the current year. Then, there is the news that the US has agreed to finance an international consultancy to go into the issue of procurement of LNG to Pakistan to get over its energy shortages at affordable cost rather than importing the costly fuel oil for the generation of electricity. Marc Grossman, the outgoing US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has, at a reception by our Ambassador Sherry Rehman, remarked that Washington wanted Pakistan to be self-sufficient. There have been other American diplomats active to create an atmosphere of bilateral friendliness, like a public diplomacy officer at Peshawar expressing the least convincing view that a Pashto song composed by her would reverse the tide of anti-Americanism in the country.

A cash-strapped Pakistan has once again shown preference for US commitments of help over the tightening of the belt and going in for a project whose completion would have a lasting beneficial impact on its economy and life in all its various manifestations. One would have wished that it had learnt the lesson of history and chosen to safeguard its long-term interests.