By Arun Kumar
Washington, March 24 (IANS) Pakistan is going into a strategic dialogue with the US with a long wish list, including an India-type civil nuclear deal and a direct Washington role in reviving the peace process with New Delhi. But the US is non-committal.
Though the State Department declined to acknowledge that Pakistan had made the demands in a 56-page document sent to the US ahead of Wednesday's talks, the Wall Street Journal citing unnamed American officials suggested it was an implicit offer to crack down in return on the Afghan Taliban.
"As far as I know, we have not been talking to Pakistan about a civilian nuclear deal. If Pakistan brings it up during the course of the meetings in the next two days, we'll be happy to listen," spokesman Philip J. Crowley told reporters Tuesday.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will be co-chairing the dialogue with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, too told the Pakistani media that Islamabad may raise the nuclear deal issue, but she would not "prejudge or preempt" the outcome.
"I'm sure that that's going to be raised and we're going to be considering it, but I can't prejudge or pre-empt what the outcome of our discussions will be, except to say that this Strategic Dialogue is at the highest level we've ever had between our two countries," she said in an interview with Pakistan's Express TV Group.
She also seemed to rule out a direct US role in Pakistan's water dispute with India or other problems with its South Asian neighbour.
"Well, usually, where there is an agreement, as there is between India and Pakistan on water, with mediation techniques, arbitration built in, it would seem sensible to look to what already exists to try to resolve any of the bilateral problems between India and Pakistan," Clinton told Dunya TV.
"But in the course of the strategic dialogue, what we want to do is focus on the problem. If the problem is water or agriculture or energy, without looking externally, as we do in our other strategic dialogues.
"And our strategic dialogue with Pakistan... is what we want to build and really put on a strong footing for the future," she said.
However, the primary focus of the talks is expected to be security issues and the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan with Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, Pakistani army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, head of Pakistan's spy agency joining the talks.
Qureshi, who was on Capitol Hill Tuesday, meeting with members of Congress in advance of Wednesday's talks, indicated as much. He expected the day-long series of meetings to result in a fundamental change in the US-Pakistani relationship, and that could include a further expansion of military relations.
Pakistan's civilian government and the military had a "very clear plan" for what needed to be done, said Qureshi. "We articulated that collectively ... what the Pakistani priorities are."
But the Pentagon played down the chance of any big announcement of fresh aid at the end of the talks, saying the dialogue would focus on the bolstering long-term bilateral ties.
"I would not look to this, at the end of it, for there to be some great announcement about any hard items that are being produced as a result of the conversations," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters. "This is a dialogue designed to produce a better long-term strategic relationship ... this is not simply about asking and receiving items."