The South Asia Channel

The U.S and Pakistan: It’s All Talk

For Pakistanis, the latest talks between the United States and Pakistani officials in Washington, D.C. are just a repeat of what they’ve seen played out on their television screens so many times before. Even with the addition of the new chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, to the delegation, a wide-ranging agenda, and ...

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

For Pakistanis, the latest talks between the United States and Pakistani officials in Washington, D.C. are just a repeat of what they’ve seen played out on their television screens so many times before. Even with the addition of the new chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, to the delegation, a wide-ranging agenda, and renewed commitment to partnership from both sides, most Pakistanis do not see a change in the status quo.

After it was announced that the United States would provide aid for power plants in Pakistan, a right-wing colleague of mine remarked: "Why don’t we just hand over our country to [the United States] now." On local television stations analysts have been speculating that Kayani’s inclusion is a sign that the military and the government are putting up a united front is hard for most Pakistanis to believe, as is the impression Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are working hard to promote — that U.S.-Pakistan relations are taking a turn for the better.

Perhaps to give the impression that they are a key player in the region, Pakistan has gone along with a long list of U.S. demands, from acquiescing to the Coalition Support Funds to paying for the support for thermal power plants on the list. Ayaz Amir, a member of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the second largest party in the parliament, told me over the phone "I think we’ve set our expectations too high and our wish list is a bit too wishy-washy. We should’ve focused on one or two specific areas. Instead we’ve gone in with unrealistic expectations. These talks are no different from previous phases in our history, so we should not be carried away with this."

Cyril Almeida, a columnist at the daily newspaper Dawn, said during a phone interview, that during these talks we will  likely see Pakistan making a push for what’s already on the table — for example support for the war against militancy, aid, infrastructure development, etc. "There’s nothing new that you would expect either to announce, or nothing new that either side will learn about the other side. However, it is important whenever they meet, but at the same time, I don’t see it as being a deal changer."

After 9 years of being ruled by a military ruler, the former president, General Pervez Musharraf, one saw Gen. Kayani, taking a backseat. But thanks to the ruling party the Pakistan People’s Party mishandling of the reinstatement of deposed judges, one has seen the COAS nudge and push the government into handling domestic issues with more tact. According to Almeida, "From the Pakistani perspective, what is more important is that General Kayani is now increasingly comfortable with a high profile public role in Pakistan’s foreign policy. From giving briefings to the media, chairing a meeting with the country’s foreign secretaries and being seated in meetings with the Prime Minister, he is becoming uncomfortably comfortable in his newfound role as the "go to person" on Pakistan’s foreign policy."

At the end of the day, even if the United States promises the moon (which it won’t), and even if the Pakistani government comes back empty handed, or laden with promises, the situation in Pakistan will remain the same. Even with a lull in recent terror attacks, Pakistanis are braced every single day for the worst to happen. The current electricity shortfall in the country is now at 5,000 megawatts, meaning electricity cuts off from anywhere between 4 – 12 hours a day. Prime Minister Gilani is promising the world to Pakistanis at the moment, saying the delegation will discuss everything from power plants to Afia Siddiqui’s case. The media wing of Pakistan’s army — the Inter Services Public Relations — sends daily dispatches reporting such events as: "X number of militants was killed in army operations in the tribal areas," in an attempt to show that all is well in the country.

While this dialogue between the U.S. administration and the Pakistani government will surely continue, one wonders if all that is promised will be delivered. And with Pakistan’s current government’s record being so dismal on everything from implementing constitutional reforms to infrastructure development, it is highly likely that the Pakistan-U.S. talks will remain just that: talk.

Huma Imtiaz works as a journalist in Pakistan.

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