A delegation of four US senators visited Pakistan last week seeking to allay concerns over Washington's relations with Islamabad widely seen as sliding downwards with a claim that mutual ties have never been better.

The relationship is complex as Pakistan is apparently seen by the US as part of the solution as well as part of the problem in resolving the security challenges faced by Washington in Afghanistan.

For many who see the situation from a non-US prism, Washington is in danger of losing track of a fundamentally vital reality. To ordinary Pakistanis across the length and breadth of the country, Washington is seen more as a foe rather than as a friend.

There are many different ways to assess exactly why the relationship is so inherently weak, with issues ranging from complex matters to straightforward ones. While Pakistan's pro-western elite aspire for closer ties with the US, their enthusiasm finds few takers on the streets.

There are several issues which drive the popular trend. One issue is, of course, Pakistan's increasingly powerful private television media which typically demonstrates the discord between the two countries in a far more powerful way than the statement of shared values.

Media campaign

In a free and democratic environment, the opportunities for the state to curb the media are almost non-existent, which essentially means that there is little the Pakistani government can realistically do to change the image of the US in the media.

Another issue, however, is the unhelpful nature of the history surrounding this relationship, arming Pakistani critics with references to precedents where the US has simply walked away from Islamabad, after a period of working in close proximity with the ruling structure of the country.

Another issue raised by ordinary Pakistanis is, what have they gained from the close ties with the US in spite of the large inflow of billions of dollars in military and some economic assistance to the country?

Such historical trends taken together, make it partly obvious that there has been a fundamental disconnect between the history of the US relationship with Pakistan's ruling structure as opposed to its mainstream population.

The established pattern of the relationship could change if the US succeeds in delivering a chunk of economic assistance to ordinary Pakistanis. However, till such an outcome, it is clear that the disconnect will simply not go away and the widespread scepticism will, of course, continue.

A vital footnote to this established pattern is the harm done to the US image in Pakistan with Washington's continued refusal to either halt the attacks on suspected militant locations in Pakistan's regions along the Afghan border, or share this technology with Pakistan so that the country is able to use it on its own.

It is possible that the criticism by Pakistani nationalists seeking to target the US may only be half-justified. And yet, that criticism still raises a major challenge for the US in its efforts to win hearts and minds in Pakistan, as well as for Islamabad in justifying its ties to Washington.

To set the course for a new beginning which eventually helps to pacify the anti-US critics in Pakistan may involve a long drawn process, requiring a fundamental policy shift backed by action in hitherto unaddressed areas.


The key element driving such a long overdue policy shift however must be the acceptance of the failure of policies tried out for years.

But unlike former US president George W. Bush who wedded himself to some of the most controversial US policies ever known, US President Barack Obama at least has an opportunity.

That opportunity is driven in part by his historic rise in US politics, breaking the myth that the high centre of power in Washington only belongs to politicians representing the American ethnic mainstream.

The next step beyond winning that mandate, however, may be far more challenging. It requires embracing change in a way that long established US policies will not just need to be set aside. There will also have to be acceptance of the failure surrounding the way Washington has tried to relate itself to countries with which it has a partnership.

The profound question must be, can the US refine its ties with Pakistan to demonstrate that it is willing to undergo a radical policy shift?

Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.