Pakistan’s leader seeks to renew diplomacy with U.S.

Even before Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meets President Barack Obama at the White House today, his visit to Washington as the leader of an increasingly democratic Pakistan was already reflecting a shift in dynamics that’s likely to redefine Pakistan’s historically troubled relationship with the United States.

Sharif, whose right-of-center Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party won a clear majority in May’s general election, said he has a public mandate and clearly identified public policy goals, two elements that provide a clarity that previously was absent from exchanges with the U.S.

In Pakistan, where the military has dominated the political landscape for most of the nation’s existence, Sharif made a remarkable statement by traveling to Washington without a single member of the military in his delegation.

Unlike Pakistan’s most recent leaders, Sharif’s goals are often different from the Pakistani military’s, yet he has made no secret of his agenda, which he laid out again Tuesday in a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington.

Sharif said reviving the economy, improving relations with India, helping to stabilize Afghanistan and working closely with the United States were all components of his government’s long-term strategy to combat terrorism and extremism, which he described as Pakistan’s greatest challenge.

Sharif said he was confident that Pakistan could work with the U.S. on those and other issues, expanding a relationship that’s “stood the test of time” despite “occasional hiccups.” He also said he welcomed American private investment in major projects to overhaul Pakistan’s energy and other sectors.

In no uncertain terms, however, Sharif touched on “a major irritant” in U.S.-Pakistani relations: “the matter of drone strikes, which have deeply disturbed and agitated our people.”

He said the U.S. strikes not only violated Pakistan’s territorial integrity but also were detrimental to his country’s own efforts to combat terrorism.

“I would therefore stress the need for an end to drone attacks,” Sharif said.

What Sharif really seeks, analysts said, is American help to develop Pakistan’s economy, which has lost an estimated $60 billion in growth, largely to an insurgency that’s cost 40,000 civilian and military lives.

To accomplish that, Sharif has centered his foreign policy on his country’s need to generate business and jobs, something that can happen only if Pakistan has peace and stability at home and in relations with its neighbors Afghanistan to the west and India, Pakistan’s foe, to the east.

Sharif has told his domestic audiences that the United States, the country’s largest trading partner and source of investment, is crucial to that happening.

Today, Sharif and Obama will formally announce the resumption of cooperation. The White House meeting also is likely to yield a document defining areas of common interest.

Details will include the release of $1.6 billion in military aid and compensation for Pakistan’s counterterrorism operations, and probably the reopening of two major logistical corridors through Pakistan into Afghanistan to facilitate the quickest and cheapest possible withdrawal of U.S. military hardware.

The White House also may announce financing for a $12 billion hydroelectric dam in northern Pakistan that’s key to mitigating the country’s chronic power shortage and increasing productivity from agriculture, which employs more than half the workforce.