Pakistan plans to unleash a new anti-terrorist strategy within two weeks in the violent commercial capital Karachi, said a senior advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hours after Sharif met President Obama at the White House Wednesday.
"Terrorists are a threat to us -- we lost 40,000 casualties," said Sartaj Aziz, National Security Advisor to Sharif. "We did not have a comprehensive anti-terror strategy. In Karachi, we have launched a counter-terrorist force supported by law and a special force. In the next few weeks it will come out in the open."
While some crimes in Karachi are by criminal gangs and kidnappers, others are by sectarian groups such as Taliban and anti-Shiite Sunnis. U.S. journalist Danny Pearl was beheaded by Islamist extremists in Karachi.
If the anti-terrorist force can calm things in Karachi it may be turned against the terrorist enclave on the Afghan border in North Waziristan, last bastion of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked groups.
Aziz spoke to a handful of journalists and experts on Pakistan, bluntly admitting that U.S.-Pakistan relations have been on a "roller coaster" that he hopes will stop its fluctuations and tension.
With U.S. and other coalition forces set to withdraw from Afghanistan next year, thousands of Taliban, Hakkani and other extremist insurgents still live openly in the lawless Waziristan area of Pakistan. Many Americans and Afghans fear Pakistan will help them try to overthrow the Afghan government once American troops depart.
Aziz did say he hopes some U.S. and coalition troops remain in Afghanistan to prevent a collapse of the Kabul government and to flush cash into the economy, which is all but dependent on spending by foreign forces.
Aziz said he thinks it's best for all concerned -- Afghans, Americans and Pakistan -- if the Afghans settle their civil war on their own -- without outside interference.
"The insurgency will be marginal and lead to power sharing" as the Afghans learn how to adjust to life without foreign interference, he said.
He mentioned Pakistani concern that neighbors -- particularly India -- do not try to turn the Afghan countryside into a proxy war.
Afghanistan has received considerable aid from India, which has infuriated the Pakistanis who live in a constant fear and resentment towards New Delhi which defeated Pakistan in three wars since the two countries became independent in 1947.
In fact Prime Minister Sharif last visited the White House when Bill Clinton lived there, seeking help in defusing a war against India in the remote Kashmiri Kargil region -- a war started by Pakistani troops.
Clinton advised Sharif to declare a truce and pull his troops back across the Line of Control - which Sharif did. But a few months later the Pakistan military launched a coup and Sharif ended in jail and then exile in Saudi Arabia.
Returned to leadership in recent elections, Sharif is dealing with:
-- A foundering economy with crumbling electricity generation
-- Rampant insecurity with violence against Christians, Shiites, secularists, and Westerners.
-- India still seething over a terrorists attack by Pakistan's Lashkar-i-Toiba group that killed nearly 200 in Bombay.
-- A growing population with millions of youths unable to find jobs.
-- An education system mired in corruption that pushed millions to send their children to religious schools, madrasahs, many of which teach hatred for non-Muslims, secular Pakistanis and Westerners.
Sharif's overture to the West has already won a loosening of U.S. assistance -- some $1.6 billion in aid suspended months earlier has now been released.
Many now wonder if the current warming of U.S.-Pakistan relations is built on a fallacy -- that real power over foreign and security affairs is not controlled by civilians such as Aziz and Sharif but by the Pakistani army which has ruled about 40 of the 66 years since independence in 1947.
When I met the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Washington some years before she was assassinated, she told me: "I gave the army everything they wanted and still they threw me out of power -- twice."
Aziz stressed the good relations between Obama and Sharif who stretched out their meetings beyond the scheduled time.
He said that Pakistan retains tight control over its nuclear weapons even though it is developing smaller ones that would be easier to deliver as well as to steal.
And while Pakistan's public and Sharif have voiced opposition to U.S. drone strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan, those strikes have dwindled from over 100 last year to only 19 so far this year.
Aziz said his goal is Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbors; and greater links to the rest of the world. He appealed for help reducing import duties on textiles, which comprise 80 percent of its exports. Sharif called for trade not aid.
However Aziz acknowledged that unless security is improved, foreigners will not visit, trade or invest.
And when it comes to the $7 billion in foreign aid pledged by Congress to Pakistan, Aziz said it was scattered in too many small projects and had "no visible impact" among the public. He suggested it would be better to invest in a large dam so that people could see the benefit of U.S. friendship.
Regarding the way to deal with the Pakistani Taliban, which attacks in many Pakistani cities, Aziz said the government would try "talks" to "test them" and see if they really want peace.