I recently attended a think-tank symposium designed to provide perspectives on Pakistan’s opportunities for change in the country and with regional partners on the path to peace and progress. Questions included how can the US and Pakistan have a realistic and workable relationship? How can Islamabad, Kabul and Washington work towards a relationship that is beneficial for all?
Michael Kugelman, deputy assistant director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Institute in Washington, DC, asked: What can be done to improve the environment for women and entrepreneurs? How can the militancy ideology be eliminated?
One point that was brought up is how frequently US-Pakistan relations are compared to that of a contentious marriage. I would describe watching US-Pakistan relations as akin to watching two bipolar, schizophrenics stumbling around in the dark — one holding a tumbler of whisky, the other holding a chars ka cigarette.
In any case, both Pakistan’s and America’s perspectives differ greatly. Globally, the perception of Pakistan as a nation is overwhelmingly negative and the people suffer because of it.
David Sedney, former US deputy assistant secretary for the Department of Defence for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, stated two pervasive issues: terrorism and nuclear proliferation. With regard to nuclear proliferation, Sedney stated the US is concerned nuclear technologies and assets will either be misused or stolen, and therefore become a danger to the world. Although requiring an enormous amount of work, in good times and in bad, Sedney believes a similar agreement as the one the US has with India would be beneficial for US-Pakistan ties. He further stressed the need to build freedom of the press and expression.
Laurel Miller, a political scientist with RAND corporation, believes Pakistan’s policy to Afghanistan has been consistent with its messaging, whereas it is the US that has changed. She stated that the US has failed to convince Pakistan on US-Afghanistan relations and the way forward.
For Ms Miller two open questions remain: Is Pakistan going to see a build-up to US-India relations as a zero-sum game? The US-Pakistan relationship and US-India relationship are two separate dynamics that need to evolve on their own terms. Secondly, will or should the US care about stemming China in South Asia, more specifically Pakistan, and boost its ties with India? China, she acknowledged, can be a net contributor to regional stability.
Ms Miller further stated that Trump, although unlikely to be weighed down by the past, is an ultra-transactionalist — meaning he will more likely move on any agreement with Pakistan if he sees some benefit to the US. But goodwill can’t be manufactured, there must be some basis for it. As it relates to Pakistan’s continued use of militant proxies, only strong countervailing interests will cause the US to turn a blind eye.
Other women, such as Andleeb Abbas spoke eloquently about the continued need for professional skills trainings, creating more space to encourage women’s entrepreneurship and the importance of seeking understanding first to help reduce conflict and misunderstanding between our nations.
The efforts of Pakistani-Americans to help foster improved communications are commendable. But how does this translate into actionable items? Do these events help or hinder progress? Do any of the key stakeholders really want to see an improvement in relations? Do the governments of both countries have enough common ground to build a solid foundation that we can all be proud of?
*Correction: The speaker on behalf of the Afghanistan Embassy was not Madina Qasimi as stated in the previous article, but rather Sayed Zafar Hashemi, political counsellor. The error is regretted.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2018.