As the Prime Minister embarks on his visit to the US on Sunday, expectations are kept to a minimum from this important event. The fact that a new Pakistani government is in place after a successful, democratic transition should have meant progress, but it seems that both countries are suffering a bit of an impasse. The Nawaz-led delegation will look to discuss issues of trade and private investment, but the real focus of the stay is likely to be Afghanistan and terrorism.

Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan has gotten increasingly difficult to assess as a success, and the US is having trouble finding any conclusively victorious end to their escapade in the country. On Afghanistan, old deals may be renewed and troop withdrawal plans mapped out, and on terrorism, the Prime Minister will present excuses – as he has done at home.

Historically the US-Pakistan relationship has had its ups and downs, but more recently there have been more downs than ups. Pakistan in the eyes of the US is a volatile ally to have, while Pakistan feels that the demands of the US are sometimes excessive. Although it seems that while the era of extreme hostility and suspicion may thankfully be behind us, significant improvement in ties between the two allies is a long way off – though the release of $1.6 billion from the Coalition Support Fund has been giving many in Pakistan a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Drones are another touchy topic between the two, but at best Nawaz Sharif will be able to make a brief and impassioned speech on the subject, much like his predecessors. Any likelihood of the tour ending with a change of heart in the American establishment about the efficacy of drones, is a utopian dream – one that diplomats have been cautiously avoiding, and which even politicians have now stopped speaking of.

Beyond the laments of a one-sided relationship though, it seems that there is little imagination about what a potential Pakistan-US relationship should look like. Mian Nawaz has historically been amenable to American overtures, but this time there will be neither a red carpet for him, nor is he going to be greeted as the darling of the American President, as he once was by President Clinton. Times have changed, and Pakistan requires a leadership to respond accordingly. New ground needs to be laid for a fruitful US-Pakistan relationship. Market access and trade agreements are a good enough start for it – but what then? One hopes the Prime Minister has a plan.