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Pakistani Ambassador Claims High Cooperation With US

Pakistan’s ambassador touted high levels of cooperation with the U.S., speaking to reporters at the St. Regis Hotel on Tuesday.

Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani commented on regional developments, including one of President Barack Obama’s most controversial foreign policy moves.

He says negotiations with Iran are a positive development, a process Pakistan has been encouraging. There have been plans for a gas pipeline between Pakistan and Iran, although blocked by U.S. sanctions. If there was a new relationship between the U.S. and Iran, objections could fall away, according to Marvin Weinbaum, director of the Center for Pakistan Studies at The Middle East Institute.

The head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence visited Washington D.C. last week, a sign relations have normalized in the past two years.

“In a way, it’s a healthy relationship, because there’s no more illusions about a complete overlapping of interests,” said Weinbaum. “At least it’s a more realistic relationship.”

Preparing for the U.S. military withdrawal from neighboring Afghanistan, the ambassador says Pakistan is building up troops along the border, increasing from an estimated 145,00 to 175,000 soldiers. This move is meant to show Pakistan’s commitment to ousting militants, said Weinbaum.

A controversial aspect of the battle against extremists is the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert drone war in Pakistan, started under the Bush administration and expanded under Obama. It has been counterproductive and “generates a lot of anti-American sentiment,” said the ambassador. Only 14 percent of Pakistanis view America favorably, according to a poll from 2014.

Even though Pakistan’s official policy is to say drone strikes are deplorable, both countries’ intelligence services are cooperating. According to Weinbaum, drones took off from Pakistani soil until around 2011. “By and large, we are hitting those targets… which both countries would find acceptable,” said Weinbaum.

The lowest point in relations came after U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011. The mission was conducted covertly, because officials believed sharing the information with Pakistani officials could have compromised the operation.

Pakistan responded by imprisoning Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who aided in the capture of bin Laden. As reported by Fox News:

Afridi is widely believed to have been targeted by Pakistani authorities because he played a role in what proved to be a deep embarrassment for the country’s leadership. Not only was bin Laden found on Pakistani territory, his compound hideout was located in a garrison town – Abbottabad – raising questions about who, within the Pakistani establishment, might have already known about his presence.

The issue remains a “soft point” between the two countries, says Weinbaum.

Foreign aid to Pakistan has created controversy at home, as the U.S. is projected to spend $31 billion between 2002 and 2016, according to the Congressional Research Service.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, Republican Sen. Rand Paul said taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be given to countries like Pakistan who challenge the U.S. When questioned about the statement, Jilani said Paul is “not inclined to give money to any country.”

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