Watching Nawaz and Obama speak to the media after their meeting in the White House, one gained the impression that top leaders of the two countries were keen to develop a positive and constructive relationship. This feeling is also reflected in the Joint Statement issued after the meeting. Note the way it begins: At the invitation of President Obama, Prime Minister Sharif paid an official visit to Washington from October 20 to 23, 2013, marking the commitment of both Leaders to strengthen U.S.-Pakistan relations and advance shared interests in a stable, secure, and prosperous Pakistan and region….President Obama and Prime Minister Sharif held wide-ranging discussions at the White House today about the importance of a U.S.-Pakistan partnership built on a foundation of mutual interest and respect.  President Obama conveyed appreciation for Pakistan’s internal and regional security challenges and affirmed that a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Pakistan was an essential partner for the United States in the advancement of shared goals of peace, security, and socio-economic development in South Asia.

A careful reading of this Statement however provides little evidence of any substantial steps emanating from the meeting to fulfill the wish to build up a close and concrete partnership.

A welcome move relates to the resumption of the so-called US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue and the formation of five working groups including: Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism; Economics and Finance; Energy; Security, Strategic Stability, Non-Proliferation; and the Defence Consultative Group.

President Obama’s assurance “to support efforts to enlarge and strengthen Pakistan’s economy, particularly in the energy sector leaves much to be desired in terms of projects and programmes. For energy development for instance, all that was said was a “….look forward to the meeting of the working group on energy in November 2013 followed by US organized trade mission to Houston to meet with the US energy companies”. There is no commitment for substantial assistance for new hydel projects like Diamer-Bhasha and Dasu dams. There is however, a reference about the funding of Kaitu Weir project in North Waziristan.

Nor was there any definite commitment to appreciably increase imports from Pakistan and forge a portfolio of investments in Pakistan. It was proposed that a TIFA council meeting be held in Washington and a joint action plan prepared as well as a session of the Pakistan-USA Economic Opportunities Conference organized next year.

The Statement refers to some of the initiatives taken to promote education and mentions programmes for schools, students and teachers including full bright scholarships.

Nuclear security was emphasized. Under Regional Cooperation, interest was expressed for the Turkistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project while US cooperation for the rehabilitation of the Kalat-Chaman road was appreciated by the Pakistani Prime Minister. (Iran pipeline does not appear to have figured in the talks.)

Deep concern was exhibited about Afghanistan’s future: “the two leaders recognized the important role of countries in the region in supporting Afghanistan’s stability” for which there has to be “continued engagement by the international community” for economic and social development”. Pakistan’s role to support an “inclusive reconciliation” in Afghanistan and persuading the Taliban to join the process was recognized and appreciated. The repatriation of Afghanistan refugees in Pakistan and their reintegration with the support of the international community was highlighted.

The Joint Statement stressed improvement in India-Pakistan relations. President Obama welcomed the recent engagement between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan and hoped that there would be a sustained dialogue leading to the “resolution of all territorial and other disputes through peaceful means”.

To arrive at a realistic understanding of the engagement between the two leaders one must identify perceptions of the two countries about their core interests. This is how a leading American journalist, Michael Kugelman in his latest column in New York sums up the American interests: the United State largely perceives Pakistan through the lens of its twelve-year long military intervention in Afghanistan, so its relations with Pakistan are dominated by security concerns: sanctuaries for militants in the tribal areas, near the Afghan border; the safety of Pakistan based NATO supply routes and Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban in Afghanistan.

For the last many years, India has launched an international propaganda campaign demonizing Pakistan as the “epicenter of terrorism”. All that Nawaz Sharif was able to secure from Manmohan Singh was a stinging denunciation of Pakistan reiterated in the latter’s meeting with President Obama and in his address at the United Nations General Assembly. Even the promise of the ceasefire on the Line of Control has not been kept and every other day high-level Indian officials make unwholesome and jingoistic statements about Pakistan. Islamabad’s plea for investigation of the LoC firing incidents by UN or some other international agencies has been rejected outright.

USA which has a strategic partnership relationship with India, toes the Indian line as is to be seen in the talks held by Manmohan Singh with Obama last September. When Obama told Nawaz that “no country’s territory should be used to destabilize its neighbours” he was conveying softly what the Indians keep telling him about Pakistan exporting terrorism to India. One may add that according to a state department official Obama had also asked Nawaz Sharif to stop the activities of Jamaat-ud-dawa and speed up judicial action against the militants involved in the Mumbai killings. Manmohan Singh is on record having asked Obama to take up these matters with Pakistan. Here it would be appropriate to quote from the Manmohan Singh-Obama Joint Statement: “Affirming their deep concern over the continuing threat posed by terrorism, President Obama and Prime Minister Singh stressed the need for joint and concerted effort, including dismantling of terrorist safe havens, and disrupting all financial and tactical support for terrorism. The leaders decided to significantly expand information sharing and intelligence cooperation to address threats to their respective nations including strengthening the bilateral relationship to exchange information on known and suspected terrorists. The leaders emphasized the importance of expanding homeland security cooperation to enhance exchanges on megacity policing strategies, securing the global supply chain and anti-counterfeiting efforts…..President Obama and Prime Minister Singh strongly condemned the September 26 terrorist attack in Samba in Jammu and Kashmir. They reiterated their condemnation of terrorism in all its forms, and reaffirmed their commitment to eliminating terrorist safe havens and infrastructure, and disrupting terrorist networks including Al-Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Leaders called for Pakistan to work toward bringing the perpetrators of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks to justice”.

At the end it needs to be said that Nawaz sharif’s (issues-wise) order of priorities was somewhat flawed in the sense that terrorism which for Americans was the crucial core question was the last in his list of issues taken up with the Obama administration. Economy, energy and education were his three top concerns. This partly explains why there was so little convergence on the above mentioned vital issue.  

It is good to know that America is willing to back up Pakistan’s plan to hold talks with the Pakistani Taliban. It is now for Nawaz to jolt himself to speed up the dialogue with the Taliban. Had he done so earlier possibly with good results, he would have fared much better in his encounter with the American Administration. 

    The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.