THE American envoy who perhaps understands Pakistan-US relations better than most but officially did so at a time when Washington was less sympathetic to the Pakistani condition and position is back in the news. Having retired from the US diplomatic service, Cameron Munter has been speaking his mind in recent days and his comments have a refreshing tinge to them. Addressing a Washington think tank on Wednesday, Mr Munter hit out against the “callousness” of the US in refusing to immediately apologise for the deaths of Pakistani troops in the 2011 Salala incident. That refusal led to an escalation in a war of words between Pakistan and the US and the damaging closure of the Isaf supply routes through Pakistan for seven months. Since that chain of events, Pakistani and American officials have been keen to stress that a “new realism” has been injected into ties and both sides have a better understanding of what is and isn’t possible in the bilateral relationship going forward.
Yet, what Mr Munter was highlighting was something more subtle — and surely continuing. The trust deficit that has become a yawning chasm is still tiptoed around, instead of being squarely addressed. If the US military put its foot down and prevented a quick apology for Salala, that stubbornness is rooted in its own complaints about US troops being injured or killed in Afghan Taliban attacks — attacks made possible, in the US military’s formulation, by Pakistani support, direct and indirect, for the Afghan Taliban. But where militaries are meant to be fierce and suspicious, it is the job of diplomats to inject some stability and reasonableness in discourse and find ways to lessen tensions and expand common interests. Particularly with the US presence in Afghanistan to be significantly downgraded and changed in nature over the next couple of years, there is an urgent need to squarely face up to the deep-rooted suspicions on both sides. The US should know that Pakistan worries that on its way out of Afghanistan, it may just aim a kick or two at Pakistan as payback for a decade of being the “ally from hell”.