ISLAMABAD - U.S. official expressed hope that relations between the two countries could improve after a kidnapped U.S.-Canadian couple and their three children were freed in Pakistan in October, after the couple was abducted in Afghanistan.
However, while the Trump administration has used tougher words with Pakistan, it is has yet to change Islamabad’s calculus and if the United States is seen as bullying, it is unlikely to succeed, experts say.
While Mattis travelled to the region earlier this year, he did not make a stop in Pakistan, although he did visit its arch rival, India, a relationship that has grown under the Trump administration.
“There is not an effective stick anymore because Pakistan doesn’t really care about U.S aid, it has been dwindling anyway and it is getting the money it needs elsewhere … treat it with respect and actually reward it when it does do something good,” Madiha Afzal, with the Brookings Institution, said.
Mattis’ brief visit to Islamabad comes a week after a hardline Pakistani Islamist group called off nationwide protests after the government met its demand that a minister accused of blasphemy resign.
Separately, a Pakistani Islamist accused of masterminding a bloody 2008 assault in the Indian city of Mumbai was freed from house arrest. The White House said the release could have repercussions for relations between Washington and Islamabad.
“I think for Pakistan, the timing in very bad. There is talk about progress being made against extremists and here you have a situation where religious hardliners have basically been handed everything they wanted on a silver platter,” said Michael Kugelman, with the Woodrow Wilson think-tank in Washington.
Kugelman said that rather than pushing Pakistan, Mattis should explain that not dealing with militants on its border could see those same militants turning on Islamabad.