US ambassador to Pakistan to step down amid worsening US-Pakistani ties | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 08.05.2012
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US ambassador to Pakistan to step down amid worsening US-Pakistani ties

A US official has said that Cameron Munter, the US ambassador to Islamabad, will prematurely quit his job this summer. Experts say his departure will further damage the US-Pakistani relations.

Experts are of the view that after the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's stern comments about Pakistan's role in the fight against terrorism, the news of Cameron Munter's premature departure from Islamabad is a further blow to the already damaged US-Pakistani ties.

Munter has been the US ambassador to Pakistan for less than two years - but at a time of serious diplomatic tension between Washington and Islamabad, especially after the killing of al Qaeda's former head Osama bin Laden by US special forces in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad last May.

Ties between the US and Pakistan further deteriorated after a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border last November. Pakistan, in retaliation, blocked a key NATO supply route to Afghanistan, which, to date, has not been reopened.

Munter, who maintains "good relations with both the government of Pakistan and the US government," as described by a US official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, has spent most of his time in job trying to repair his country's relations with the Islamic republic.

Reconciliation efforts

Pakistani Army soldiers carry coffins containing bodies of their comrades

Pakistan's Army has been very powerful for the past 65 years

"Munter is a casualty of US-Pakistani relations, which are going through a very difficult period … Both parties are sticking to their positions and are not ready to bend," General (retired) Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based defense and political analyst, told DW.

Masood praised Munter's reconciliation efforts between Washington and Islamabad. He said Munter's departure would make things more complicated and that the next ambassador's job would not be any easier.

"It was a very difficult task that he (Munter) was trying to accomplish. But it seems that the US is in a hurry and wants Islamabad to yield to their demands, which, under present circumstances, are very difficult for Pakistan to accept."

But Farooq Sulehria, editor of the online magazine 'Viewpoint,' is of the opinion that the ambassadors have a very little say in determining the state policy.

"The US does not decide its policies at the spur of the moment. It is the state that decides the course of its policies in the US," said Sulehria.

Islamabad's reluctance

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed

India accuses Saeed of planning the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks

On Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Pakistan was not cooperating as it should regarding issues of terrorism. During her official visit to New Delhi, Clinton reiterated Washington's demand that Islamabad must take action against Hafiz Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, who is suspected of masterminding the terror attack in Mumbai in 2008.

Islamabad maintains there is not much evidence against Saeed, who was released by a Pakistani court last year.

"Clinton's statements about Pakistan were meant to show solidarity with the Indian government on the issues of militancy," said Masood. "From the Pakistani point of view, it is very unfair what she said, knowing that its soldiers are dying everyday fighting the militants."

Sulehria, on the other hand, said Clinton's allegations should be taken seriously. Sulehria said the Pakistani state had no control on large parts of the country.

"A number of al Qaeda operatives are hiding in Pakistan. Maybe the state is not protecting them, but it is worrisome that they are still inside Pakistan," Sulehria said.

Sulehria said it could very well be that al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri was in Pakistan: "After bin Laden's assassination in Pakistan, anything is possible."

NATO supply route to Afghanistan

NATO supply trucks stranded in Peshawar

NATO supply trucks have been stranded in Peshawar for more than six months

Pakistani experts believe US-Pakistani ties can improve if the Pakistani government reopens the NATO supply line.

"Americans will be very satisfied if the NATO supply route is revived," said Masood. "Pakistan should try to resolve this issue. It is in the interest of Pakistan. This issue is not only about US-Pakistani relations but also about Pakistan's ties with all NATO states."

But Sulehria said the civilian government in Pakistan had no powers to make a decision on the NATO supply.

"It is the Pakistani Army which is going to decide whether the supply route should be resumed or not. But the problem with the Pakistan Army is that it thinks the US is losing the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and that it had the bargaining power to dictate its terms. The Pakistani military must change its thinking."

Sulehria said it was likely that the US administration would continue to try to resolve the crisis through dialogue and that it would probably not impose sanctions on Islamabad.

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Sarah Berning

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