In less than a single month, Pakistani delegations marked their presence in two important meetings in Washington. Just recently, Pakistan was one of the participants in the Nuclear Security Summit called by President Obama in Washington. The meeting, participated in by 47 states, aimed to secure nuclear assets around the world. Earlier, in late March, a strategic dialogue was held between the US and Pakistan in which issues pertaining to common strategic interests were discussed between the two countries.
When it comes to the agendas of the meetings, it appears that Pakistan played its part better. The very nature of strategic-level dialogue is important for Pakistan, given the history of mistrust between the two countries. Similarly, Pakistan was also able to hear soothing words on its nuclear programme, as President Obama set aside Pakistan’s fears about the jeopardy to its nuclear programme. In fact, the invitation by itself is treated by some as recognising Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
Moreover, Pakistan also tried to signal related messages, such as civilian supremacy, to the US. This came as not only were the two delegations led by civilian authorities, namely the foreign minister and the prime minister respectively, but a joint homework was deliberated upon, notwithstanding the debate of who did the homework primarily and who merely turned in the assignment.
However, what has been noted is that instead of assessing the performance on the core agenda, as discussed above, some observers have been trying to draw a wrong comparison. In the midst of all the debate, what has not been looked into is how there appears to be a contrast in what some people projected from the meetings and what has been the real focus of the meetings. For both the meetings, these commentators, if not the delegates, have been telling the domestic audience how Pakistan is going to demand this or that from the US.
Take the case of the first meeting, the strategic dialogue. The way some people kept on drum-beating about the meeting, it appeared as if it would be fairer to call the meeting as a ‘tactical bargain’ instead of a ‘strategic dialogue’ as it was named. The course of Afghanistan was mostly treated as the bargaining point. Even the critics focused on points of immediate bargain and kept on warning against not relying on the US, so much so that after the delegation came back, they boasted, “See, we told you so.” This appears contrary to the real intent of the meeting, which was clear in the statement of Pakistan’s ambassador to the US that “no wish list [was] exchanged” and instead views regarding strategic partnership were exchanged.
Similarly, the same could be said about the second meeting — the Nuclear Summit. Before embarking on his tour, the prime minister announced his intention of asking for a civilian nuclear deal a la US-India. Even though the announcement of such a demand can be defended on the grounds of the ‘nuclear’ nature of talks, it is pertinent to mention that the summit was clear in not discussing anything beyond nuclear terrorism.
While it could be rightly argued that there is nothing wrong in coming up with a wish list, the problem is that it leads to wrong expectations from a meeting. These wrong expectations are the wrong tools of assessing the performance of a meeting, when it is much better to forget about the results.
In case of demands not being met, the end result is more distrust between the two countries with the unfulfilled demands finding their way into the historic list of the US’s perfidy vis-à-vis Pakistan. After all, when it comes to the narrative of US-Pakistan relations, a good section of it is based on misreading of the roles and expectations at the first stage, while mistrust is obvious in the later stage. For instance, Pakistan’s historic complaint against the US, i.e. stopping of military assistance during the 1965 war, is responded to by the US with the argument that the assistance was conditioned that it would not be used against India.
It is much better for Pakistan to focus the domestic discussion on the items of the agenda to be discussed instead of enticing the people with wish lists. That way, a more fruitful debate can be generated that would be helpful for the visiting delegation, not only before, but also after the visit. Above all, a debate on the agenda would certainly make commentators question Pakistan’s responsibilities as an international state, leading to better introspection. The absence of debate on the agenda feeds those who knew that the wish list would not be endorsed.