Pakistan has been a key US ally in the fight against terrorism and continuing instability there is one of Washington’s top foreign policy concerns.
The US is pushing Pakistan to do more to root out al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, with worries that years of progress in the region are increasingly at risk. Washington wants more cooperation between Islamabad and Kabul, but not all Pakistanis are convinced.
One man in Islamabad said: “President Asif Ali Zardari should deliver a message to Obama that we are not a toy. We are not ready to play in the hands of America. We should decide (on) our own.”
The US has been pushing Pakistan to combine civilian and military efforts to fight local insurgents who are sheltering in border areas. But that would mean a major change in policy in Pakistan: shifting its military focus away from traditional enemy India.
Foreign policy analyst Malou Innocent said: “The US does not have a lot of the tools that it really needs to impact policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Really the crux of the problem is that Pakistan still feels the threat is from India, not from militants, not from home grown militants and until that strategic situation can change, we really won’t see any sort of progress in that country.”
Indigenous Pakistani Taliban effectively control the Swat Valley and last month they moved into the neighbouring Buner area, just 100 kilometres northwest of Islamabad. Zabul is also said to be rife with insurgents.
Observers say the attempt to get more cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan comes amid concern in Washington that it is losing the Afghan war. They also say there is growing concern that neither country is considered a reliable ally.
The US is offering billions of euros worth of military and civilian aid to get Kabul and Islamabad on side in its strategy against Islamic extremists. But it knows that putting aside decades of mistrust will not be an easy task.