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Pakistan's U.S. Envoy Says Relationship 'Burdened' By Too Many Expectations

Sherry Rehman: "This is too important and too sensitive a relationship to carry this volume and scale of unregulated hyperbole."
Sherry Rehman: "This is too important and too sensitive a relationship to carry this volume and scale of unregulated hyperbole."
WASHINGTON -- Pakistan's new ambassador to the United States says relations between Washington and Islamabad are "burdened by too many expectations" and have become overly emotional.

Sherry Rehman made the comments on February 15 at Washington's U.S. Institute of Peace in one of her first public appearances since arriving last month.

"The marriage metaphor, for instance, never seems to go away, with its implicit embrace of love and hate, life, death, and divorce, which we seek to assiduously avoid," Rehman said.

"Given the state of strategic flux our region faces, at a time of unprecedented challenges and the responsibilities such transitions bring with it, this is too important and too sensitive a relationship to carry this volume and scale of unregulated hyperbole."

Rehman took over the envoy post from former Ambassador Husain Haqqani, who resigned in November under pressure following reports that he had asked top U.S. officials for help against Pakistan's powerful military.

Her arrival in Washington comes at a low point in bilateral relations. U.S. lawmakers have increasingly questioned Islamabad's commitment to fighting extremism after U.S. forces killed former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan compound last spring.

Washington has since slashed its military aid to the country. More recently, a classified NATO report leaked earlier this month said Pakistan's secret services are helping the Taliban attack foreign troops in Afghanistan.

And a Pakistani parliamentary committee will soon issue its recommendation for revised terms of cooperation with Washington in the wake of a border incident in November in which U.S. forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan responded by closing critical NATO supply routes into Afghanistan.

'Debilitating Continuum'

Rehman said her country had "no shortage of commitment" to fighting militancy but its leaders and civil society "need time and capacity to turn back this tide."

She said militants, extremists, and terrorists existed in "one debilitating continuum" in the country, a dynamic she said "often dilutes the force of political as well as state responses."

The new ambassador denied, however, that the problems Pakistan faces in fighting extremism point to flaws in the government.

"This is not an existential or state identity crisis in my view, as it is often profiled in these terms when Pakistan is mentioned," she added. "Neither is this a permanent condition. No government or even military can take on such a toxic and lethal combination in one go."

Rehman said Islamabad was prepared to support an Afghan-led peace process in "real-time practice, not policy platitudes" and had the "highest stakes" in its neighbor's stability.

She described the deadly November border incident as "an end-of-the-line trigger that called for a fundamental reset" in bilateral relations.

"The good news is that many of us on both sides think it is time that this relationship matured into a more consistent, stable, and transparent equation with weight given to more respect," she said.

"But once again, that would be a subject best reserved right now for our parliament to decide."

Washington has expressed regret over the incident but has refrained from apologizing, citing inadequate coordination by both Pakistani and U.S. forces as the cause.

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