Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto embarked on a 12-day visit to the US on 5 April, which was to include talks with US President Bill Clinton.
Bhutto was the last Pakistani leader to visit Washington in 1989. Her visit will attempt to repair several issues which have cooled relations in the past. Pakistan will seek US mediation on Kashmir, a repeal of the law penalising Islamabad for its nuclear programme and the settlement of an arms deal. In addition, Bhutto hopes to persuade US investors to take a fresh look at Pakistan.
Bhutto’s visit comes a week after Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan as part of an Asian tour. Relations with the US have already been strengthened by the recent extradition to the US of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the alleged mastermind behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre.
Pakistan will also underline its renewed fight against drugs. Two alleged drugs barons were extradited to the US to face charges on 2 April.
Pakistan will be touting an investment package of 70 private-sector projects in 18 different areas including agro-food, chemicals, engineering goods, electronics, railways, ports, highways, telecommunications, medical clinics, pharmaceuticals, education and financial services.
Pakistan and US firms have signed energy deals worth more than $6,000 million since September and more memorandums of understanding are expected to be signed during the April visit.
Attracting new US investment to Pakistan will be hampered by the increase in violence in Karachi, where more than 350 people have been killed in ethnic and sectarian clashes this year. The killing of three US diplomats in the city in March has also raised concerns.
Observers doubt the chances of a breakthrough on the US standpoint over Pakistan’s nuclear programme, and a repeal of the Pressler amendment is considered unlikely. The US cut off all military aid to Pakistan in 1990 on suspicion that it was working to make nuclear weapons. The move left the sale of 71 jet fighters worth $1,400 million in limbo. ‘There won’t be any single major breakthrough on any issue,’ a US diplomat quoted by Reuters said. ‘But there will be a positive message.’