Obama hosts Nawaz Sharif Wednesday, and with the often-rocky US-Pakistani marriage now in kiss-and-make-up mode, the leaders are expected to emphasize issues that unite, rather than divide (drones).
The US-Pakistan relationship has long been compared to a bad marriage, with demands for a divorce swelling on both sides after the Osama bin Laden raid and deadly attack by US forces on Pakistani border guards, both in 2011.
But when Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meets with President Obama Wednesday, the kiss-and-make-up visit to the Oval Office will underscore how divorce is off the table – and how each side hopes to proceed to make the relationship work.
The plan appears to be a common one for saving rocky relationships: emphasize common interests and play up the good points about each other.
No one thinks the problems that took relations to the brink are solved: the US continues to launch drone strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas, though in lesser numbers, and Pakistan, seeking to preserve its influence in next-door neighbor Afghanistan, continues to harbor Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda-affiliated militants.
But the Obama-Sharif meeting will mark a new phase in the relationship where each side is willing to downplay the areas of disagreement – such as drone policy – in favor of emphasizing common interests and a determination to leave the stormy path of the past behind, some South Asia experts say.
“I’m very skeptical that either side is prepared for a fundamental reassessment [of the relationship] at this point,” says Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia program at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center and a Pakistan specialist.
Calling significant changes unlikely as long as American forces remain in large numbers in Afghanistan, Mr. Hathaway says that, instead, he expects Mr. Obama and Mr. Sharif to focus on issues of importance to both sides and where both agree, such as Pakistan’s economic growth and peace and stability in Afghanistan.
“What the two leaders really need to do is figure out how to move forward in the areas where they do have common interests – and there are a number of common interests – while simultaneously not allowing their differences on issues like drones to sour the entire relationship,” he says.