Pakistan’s government was looking forward to the first visit in 14 years of a U.S. Secretary of State as a chance to mend past differences and press for greater American investment.
That was before four Americans were gunned down in Karachi, the financial heart of the country.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wanted to use Madeleine Albright’s visit today to better a relationship wounded by issues including nuclear proliferation, terrorism and Islamic militancy.
Washington wanted much the same from the visit, according to U.S. Embassy officials in Islamabad, who cannot be named under standard briefing rules. Then, four U.S. citizens, all working for the largest oil company in Pakistan, died in a bloody Wednesday morning ambush in Karachi.
The attack resurrected memories of a similar shooting two years earlier, when two U.S. Consulate workers in Karachi were ambushed and killed during their drive to work.
In the past week, the State Department has issued two advisories warning Americans to avoid Pakistan.
Added to the mix is Albright’s earlier decision to put a Pakistan-based organization, Harakat-ul-Ansar or People’s Movement, on the United States’ list of terrorist organizations.
The entire issue of terrorism and terrorist organizations appears to have moved to the top of Albright’s agenda, knocking Pakistan’s preferred topic of foreign investment right off the page.
The attack in Karachi came just two days after the U.S. conviction of Pakistani Mir Aimal Kasi in the shooting of two CIA agents in 1993.
In 1995, when the two U.S. consulate workers were killed, Pakistan had just weeks before arrested and deported to the U.S. Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted in the U.S. this week of masterminding the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993.
Diplomatic sources in Pakistan were trying to play down the terrorism issue, saying it was just one of several subjects Albright would discuss.
Even so, it’s unlikely that Pakistan will get much from Albright’s visit. It won’t get a resumption of military and economic aid because a U.S. law makes that impossible.
“Because of Pakistan’s nuclear program we don’t have much to operate with. … We are simply prohibited by law,” said the official.
Pakistan would like the U.S. to mediate its longstanding dispute with India over the Kashmir region. The U.S. already has refused.
Pakistan would like the $508 million it paid for 20 F-16 fighter jets that the U.S. administration has refused to hand over because of the law prohibiting military assistance.
At least for now, it seems the best Pakistan can hope for is that Albright still is willing to take those first steps toward a new relationship.