- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2010

Washington’s longtime suspicion and mistrust of Pakistan and questions about its commitment to fighting Islamic extremists have vanished, and the Obama administration has agreed to fast-track Islamabad’s pending requests for military equipment, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Wednesday.

In meetings with administration officials and members of Congress from both parties, Mr. Qureshi said he found a “completely different” attitude toward his country compared to what he had encountered before — much less criticism and more appreciation.

“I was at the Senate. I was at the House. It’s a 180-degree difference,” he told reporters after hours of meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other U.S. officials. “There were no more question marks, there was no suspicion, there was no ‘do more.’ There was appreciation for what we had already done.”

For years, the U.S. government has been suspicious of Pakistan’s motives in seeking a closer relationship with Washington, with some officials saying it is more interested in building up its military capabilities to counter its neighbor India than to fight terrorism.

During the George W. Bush administration, which made Pakistan a major non-NATO ally, the country received more than $10 billion in security assistance, and lawmakers raised questions about how those funds were spent under former President Pervez Musharraf.

Despite several assassination attempts on Mr. Musharraf, the Pakistani government did not wage the kind of direct military campaign against Taliban and al Qaeda fighters to satisfy the United States until last year, after both President Obama and Mr. Musharraf’s successor, Asif Ali Zardari, took office.

“Our resolute fight against militancy is evoking a stiff backlash manifested in repeated attacks and suicide bombings targeting our valiant security personnel and innocent civilians,” Mr. Qureshi said.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Qureshi chaired the first ministerial-level session of the U.S.-Pakistan “strategic dialogue,” during which officials from various parts of both governments are discussing a series of bilateral issues over two days.

“We’ve agreed to fast-track our requests, that have been pending for months and years, on the transfer of military equipment to Pakistan,” the minister said.

The secretary hailed a “new day” in ties with Pakistan and praised Islamabad’s latest actions. She did not dispute Mr. Qureshi’s comments on the new U.S. attitude toward his country.

“The Pakistani authorities have recently arrested key leaders of the Taliban,” Mrs. Clinton said. “The Pakistani army continues to fight the extremists, and the democratically elected government of Pakistan and the Pakistani people have shown extraordinary strength in their determination to rebuild their communities and rid their country of those who seek to destroy it.”

However, some analysts said the arrests of high-profile Taliban leadership are just tactical moves and do not amount to a strategic change in Pakistan’s counterterrorism strategy.

Ashley J. Tellis, senior associate in the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Pakistan’s goal is to assume a leading role in negotiating and reconciling with the Afghan Taliban to ensure a friendlier neighbor after the United States withdraws from Afghanistan.

“The recent seizures of a few Taliban leaders by Pakistan isn’t much of a turning point in Islamabad’s traditional strategy after all,” he said in a paper released Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a legal expert told Congress that CIA officers could face prosecution for war crimes in foreign courts because of Washington’s refusal to offer a legal rationale for using unmanned drones to kill suspected militants in Pakistan.

“Prominent voices in the international legal community” are increasingly critical of the U.S. refusal to address the issue, said Kenneth Anderson, a law professor at American University, during a House hearing. Lawyers at the State Department and other agencies are concerned that the administration has “not settled on what the rationales are” for the drone strikes, he added.

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