Leader's visit to help set U.S.-Pakistan priorities
Prime minister Gilani arrives at the White House Monday. Likely topics: counterterrorism and democratic stability.
The visit by Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to the White House Monday will set the course of what will be one of the United States' most critical and complex bilateral relationships in the coming years.Skip to next paragraph
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But Mr. Gilani's visit also has an aura of urgency in Washington – a sense that Pakistan and its relationship with the US cannot simply coast through the final six months of the Bush presidency. The prime minister's hold on power since the February elections that swept him into office is fragile, and deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan are focusing increased attention on the Pakistan factor in the war there.
From the US perspective, Pakistan's tribal areas harbor two of America's principal adversaries: an Al Qaeda leadership that intelligence officials believe is planning new terror attacks against the US, and Taliban fighters increasingly targeting US and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan. With these facts in mind, the US is looking for stronger action from Gilani's new civilian government and the Pakistani military against Islamic extremists.
At the same time, many Pakistanis want to see a stronger US commitment to their country's democratic forces and development. They believe US policy toward Pakistan during the Bush years was too focused on President Pervez Musharraf and actually contributed to the country's political fragility.
Concern is high in Congress that a new direction in relations with Pakistan, with less emphasis on military aid and a stronger focus on development assistance, is not coming fast enough. Given the domestic challenges that the Gilani government faces – a food shortage, galloping food prices, and a stock-market meltdown – others worry that the resulting disparate priorities will mean that the renewal of the US-Pakistani relationship faces very high hurdles.
"We need to transform the pillars of the partnership, but that's going to be tough," says Daniel Markey, a former State Department specialist on South Asia who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.