It is a tense time for U.S-Pakistan relations, as America continues to try to wrench itself from neighboring Afghanistan after more than 12 years of war, but finds itself mired in blowback for its foreign deployment of drones.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai continues to balk at the U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA, which will define the U.S. presence in Afghanistan after combat troops withdraw at the end of 2014. This, along with the ongoing U.S. drone program in Pakistan, defined much of the discussion in a meeting Monday between U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Pakistan's leadership.
The secretary was in Afghanistan over the weekend, when he told reporters he would not meet with Karzai to further discuss the deal the U.S. sees as finalized. He traveled Monday to meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and members of his cabinet.
Monday's visit marks the first time a sitting secretary has visited Pakistan in nearly four years. Hagel met with Sharif during his late October visit to Washington. A Pentagon spokesman says Hagel expects to continue their "candid and productive conversations" about security issues.
"Coming on the heels of his trip to Kabul, Secretary Hagel also looks forward to discussing with Prime Minister Sharif and other senior Pakistani officials the United States and Pakistan's common interest in a stable Afghanistan," says the Pentagon's Carl Woog.
Pakistan and the U.S. have maintained a complicated relationship during the last decade of war in neighboring Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO allies rely heavily on Pakistani land routes to ship supplies into the warzone. But recent populist protests of the ongoing U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan have prompted the national government at times to close its border to these shipments, forcing the coalition to spend billions more on other overland routes or flying supplies into landlocked Afghanistan by air.
Hagel brought up this point in his meeting Monday with Sharif, as well as Defense Minister Khwaja Asif and Finance Minister Mohammad Ishaq Dar.
"The Prime Minister indicated that Pakistan would address the issue," said Woog.
The U.S. continues to target suspected terrorist operatives in the rural parts of northwestern Pakistan, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Area, or FATA. As of November, American drones have flown 380 missions over Pakistan, according to numbers compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. These strikes have accounted for almost 3,650 deaths, including about 950 civilians and as many as 200 children.
Terrorist networks in this region, particularly the Haqqani Network, are of particular concern for the U.S. and at the forefront of Hagel's discussions Monday.
Politicians, such as leader of the influential Tehreek-e-Insaaf party Imran Khan have used the strikes as a principal talking point to blast U.S. policy in the region. He has called upon allied tribal leaders in the FATA to help cinch off NATO supply routes.
An October Washington Post report indicated the Pakistani government is at least complicit in, and perhaps even participates in the U.S. drone strike plans.