Hillary Clinton's Pakistan trip: More talk, less action
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Pakistan visit will go beyond negotiating tactics ahead of this week's Afghanistan conference. It will aim to move the relationship beyond US pressure to squash Taliban havens.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Pakistani leaders today in Islamabad in an effort to shore up relations with a country vital to peace negotiations in Afghanistan.
Mrs. Clinton's Pakistan visit – which includes the announcement of $500 million in US funding for new projects aimed at improving water, energy, agriculture, and health in Pakistan – comes directly before her attendance at this week's Kabul Conference, a meeting of 60 countries interested in Afghanistan that starts Tuesday. The summit has been billed as a chance for the international community to ratify parameters for talks between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders.
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But Pakistan specialists say Clinton's visit to Islamabad will go beyond negotiating tactics ahead of the conference. Of larger importance is moving the relationship beyond requests to squash Taliban havens to a common understanding of how to wind down the conflict safely.
"The presence of Clinton is a recognition of the vital strategic importance of Pakistan in the process of trying to secure Afghanistan and the region," says Michael Semple, a top expert on the Taliban, from Islamabad. "I think they are probably looking more broadly than just trying to set up political talks or get the Taliban into a political deal."
Let's understand one another better
Indeed, Clinton's deputies have spoken to the press about the need for changes in understanding more than concrete actions.
"Nothing could be more important to the resolution of the war in Afghanistan than a common understanding between Afghanistan and Pakistan on what their strategic purpose is," said Clinton's special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, last week.
Toward that end, Islamabad announced today it had reached a consensus with Kabul over a transit deal that would allow Afghan goods to flow by air and land across Pakistan to India. The agreement is one-way only at this point: Indian goods aren't allowed to make the reverse journey, according to Pakistani press reports.
The trade accord "shows a goodwill gesture on the part of Pakistan" toward the US efforts to improve Afghanistan-Pakistan ties, says Hassan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistan-based analyst.