ISLAMABAD -- Even before Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meets President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday, his visit to Washington as the leader of an increasingly democratic Pakistan already was remarkable for one major reason: not a single member of Pakistans military was in his delegation.
The military, which has always treated Pakistans geo-strategic policy as its exclusive domain, stayed home, content with having given Sharif its input at a meeting in Islamabad last week.
In a country where the military has dominated the political landscape for most of the nations existence, overthrowing civilian governments four times, Sharifs all-civilian delegation reflects a shift in dynamics thats likely to redefine Pakistans historically troubled relationship with the United States.
Unlike Pakistans most recent leaders, Sharif, whose right-of-center Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party won a clear majority in Mays general election, has a public mandate and publicly identified policy goals, two elements that provide a clarity that previously was absent from exchanges with the U.S.
Those goals conflict in part with those of the Obama administration, and often are different from the Pakistani militarys, but there can be no doubt about what they are. Sharif has made no secret of his agenda, which he laid out again Tuesday in a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington.
Sharif said reviving the economy, improving relations with India, helping to stabilize Afghanistan and working closely with the United States were all components of his governments long-term strategy to combat terrorism and extremism, which he described as Pakistans greatest challenge.
He said he was confident that Pakistan could work with the U.S. on those and other issues, expanding a relationship thats stood the test of time despite occasional hiccups. He also said he welcomed American private investment in major projects to overhaul Pakistans energy and other sectors.
In no uncertain terms, however, Sharif touched on a major irritant in U.S.-Pakistani relations: the matter of drone strikes, which have deeply disturbed and agitated our people.
He said the U.S. strikes not only violated Pakistans territorial integrity but also were detrimental to his countrys own efforts to combat terrorism.
I would therefore stress the need for an end to drone attacks, Sharif said.
Whether hell be successful in that plea wasnt clear, however. While not responding directly Tuesday to Sharifs comments, the White House once again defended drone strikes as it disputed claims by two human rights groups that the administrations targeted-killing program violates international law and often has killed civilians.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the White House was carefully reviewing the reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which found dozens of civilian victims in Yemen and Pakistan.
"To the extent these reports claim that the U.S. has acted contrary to international law, we would strongly disagree," Carney said. He called U.S. counterterrorism operations "precise . . . lawful and . . . effective" and said the U.S. didnt take lethal strikes when it or its partners were able to capture individual terrorists.