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Corralled and constrained, Pakistan struggles to find feet against US

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WASHINGTON: Crossed red lines, jumped red lights and a relationship that is anything but red hot. The already frigid and flaccid ties between the United States and Pakistan continue to spiral down with reports suggesting both countries are poised to constraint diplomats from the other side from free movement in tit-for-tat action following yet another spat involving what Islamabad alleges is reckless behaviour by an American diplomat.

The new row, recalling the notorious Raymond David episode in 2011 in which an undercover CIA contractor was charged with killing two Pakistanis in a highway shootout, centers this time on US military attaché Col Joseph Emanuel. In footage that has been widely and repeatedly telecast on Pakistani television since the April 7 incident, the American official allegedly jumped a red light in Islamabad, smashing into a motorcycle coming crossroad and causing the death of the rider and injury to one other person.

He was apprehended by Pakistani authorities after he left the scene and taken to a police station, but he had to be freed on account of his having diplomatic immunity as per the Geneva Convention. He remains at the US mission in Islamabad, amid continuing tensions about a resolution to the case.

Pakistani officials have since been insisting that Col Emanuel be prosecuted and put on trial either in Pakistan or in the US, even as the family of the man killed has gone to court demanding that he be arrested, and the police have sought to put him on the exit control list. Apologies from the US Ambassador over the accident after he was summoned to the Pakistani foreign office has not pacified hardliners in the Pakistani establishment already smarting under Washington’s tough new policy towards Islamabad, including holding it accountable for terrorism-related incidents.

While the Raymond Davis case was largely resolved by paying ”blood money” to families of the victims, the establishment in Pakistan does not appear to be considering such a possibility this time. The situation has been aggravated by what some sections of the Pakistani media saw as humiliating treatment of the country’s prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi during a recent visit to the US, when he had to go through security checks sans protocol, although Abbasi himself maintained he was on a private visit and did not mind the checks.

It now transpires that both sides are hardening their positions, with Washington reportedly notifying Pakistan that its diplomats in Washington DC will have to get special permission to travel beyond a 40km perimeter around the capital. While officials in Islamabad and Washington have denied the new strictures arise from the Col Emanuel episode (the US notification predates the Emanuel incident), the Dawn newspaper reported that notice to this effect was shared with the Pakistan Embassy in Washington and sent also to the ministry of foreign affairs in Islamabad, indicating that the restrictions could be imposed from May 1 ”if certain issues remained unresolved.”

The unresolved issues are many. Even before the current spat and Washington’s hardball response, Pakistan had not endeared itself to the Trump administration with its relentless patronage of terrorist groups and extremist leaders despite mealy-mouthed pledges that it is cracking down on terrorism. Islamabad’s attempt to mainstream UN- and US-designated terrorist leaders such as Hafiz Saeed, under the specious excuse that its courts had not convicted, did not go down well with the Trump administration given the copious evidence of his involvement in terrorism and Pakistan’s glossing over it and dragging its feet on prosecuting those involved in 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai.

Pakistan’s continued defiance of the US Afghanistan and South Asia strategy — part of which involves recognising and acknowledging India’s primacy in the region — has also turned off the Trump administration as it seeks a safe exit from the region.

Updated: April 12, 2018 — 2:09 pm

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