After so many years of animosity between Pakistan and the United States, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Obama used theirfirst meeting at the White House this week to begin to set the relationship on a more constructive path.
Sharif, who was elected in May, is stronger politically than his predecessor, and the absence of Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief of staff, and probably the most powerful man in Pakistan, was one of the most hopeful aspects of the meeting. It shows that Mr. Sharif may be making some progress asserting civilian control over a government long dominated by the military.
It was also significant that Mr. Sharif brought along the finance minister, Ishaq Dar, underscoring his focus on reviving Pakistan’s devastated economy. Of course, it is not just the emphasis on development, foreign investment and trade that impressed his American hosts. Mr. Sharif has also acknowledged that there will be no economic growth without security, and there will be no security unless Afghanistan is at peace and Pakistan’s relations with India are improved.
The issue is what he will do to advance those goals. Mr. Sharif has held separate talks with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India. But at a time of uncertainty — Afghanistan and India are both facing elections and American troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan — Pakistan needs to do more to improve regional stability. This should include cracking down on the Afghan Taliban, who have links to the Pakistani military and use the lawless border region to attack Afghanistan, and working with India to end cross-border skirmishes in Kashmir.
American drone strikes against insurgent targets in the border region remain a source of tension, and Mr. Sharif made the obligatory request that Mr. Obama halt them. But Pakistani officials have acquiesced to the attacks in order to deal with their own virulent Pakistani Taliban insurgency. Concerns raised by international nongovernmental groups about civilians killed by drones should cause both governments to limit the program.
The United States enlisted Pakistan as an ally in the antiterror fight after Sept. 11, 2001, and provided it with billions of dollars, mostly in military aid. But the Pakistani military has long played a double-game, accepting that money while also enabling Taliban groups; relations with Washington plummeted to their lowest point in 2011 after several incidents, including the Navy SEAL team raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.
Pakistan remains a dangerous country in a region with the world’s fastest-growing nuclear weapons program. Over the past decade, the distrust between the United States and Pakistan has grown so deep that the Obama administration reportedly stepped up its surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear program.
Obama’s decision to meet with Mr. Sharif, free up $1.5 billion in aid that had been put on hold and offer assistance on energy and public works projects shows he has confidence that Mr. Sharif is committed to building a democratic state. It is in the interest of both countries that Mr. Sharif succeeds.