Pakistan an essential regional partner: US envoy-designate

William Todd tells Senate panel he will work for advancing goal of eliminating terrorism, regional security


Our Correspondent September 23, 2020
PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD:

US Ambassador-designate to Pakistan William E Todd has promised to work with Pakistan to increase bilateral trade and youth engagement and advance “our shared interest in eliminating terrorism from its territory and advancing security in the region.

Speaking at the confirmation hearing in the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Todd said that Pakistan was an “essential partner” of the US and had played “a critical role” in the historic start of Afghan peace negotiations.

According to the transcription of his speech available on the US senate website, Todd said that the US relationship with India did not need to come at the expense of Pakistan and stressed that both the South Asian neighbours needed to take the necessary steps to reduce the tensions.

In his statement Todd acknowledged that Washington and Islamabad had longstanding relations but those always remained “complicated and sometimes contentious” but now was “a moment of opportunity for Pakistan” to forge a new and better role in the region.

“We certainly have our differences, but Pakistan is an ‘essential regional partner’ and this is an opportune moment in our relationship to work together on shared goals,” the diplomat told the Senate panel.

“Pakistan played a critical role in creating the conditions that brought Afghan leaders and the Taliban to the historic start of Afghan peace negotiations. They have an even more important role to play in supporting efforts toward a negotiated political settlement that ends 40 years of war,” he added.

Echoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks during his visit to Islamabad in 2018 that “we have an opportunity to reset the [bilateral] relationship… across a broad spectrum”, Todd said both the countries recognised the “common interest in a durable peace” in Afghanistan.

“Peace in Afghanistan is in both our countries’ best interests, and effective US-Pakistani cooperation is essential to achieve that objective. This is a moment of opportunity for Pakistan to continue to forge a new and better role in the region and if confirmed will be one of my highest priorities.”

Pakistan-India tension

In terms of regional dynamics, the ambassador-designate said that the US had a strong relationship with India but that did not need to come at the expense of Pakistan. “I believe that under the right conditions, we can have a strong relationship with both countries,” he said.

“Our hope is that both countries will take the necessary steps to reduce tensions, and as President Trump has offered, we are prepared to facilitate dialogue if both sides request it,” Todd added, referring to the US president’s offer for mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

Terrorism

The diplomat told the lawmakers that Pakistan had “suffered terribly itself at the hands of terrorists” but stressed that Islamabad “must take sustained and irreversible action against terrorism” in order to reduce regional tensions and rebuild strong relationship with the US.

Pakistan, he added, had committed publicly “to ensure terrorists cannot use Pakistani territory to operate” and had “taken important steps toward fulfilling that commitment but needs to continue that work.”

He also pledged to engage with Pakistan on strategic stability and non-proliferation issues. He added he would carry “a clear message on the threat that nuclear weapons pose to the United States, the region, and our allies and partners”, adding: “Pakistan needs to demonstrate it is prepared to live up to international commitments on weapons of mass destruction.”

Covid pandemic

Todd has been actively engaged in operationalising much of the State Department’s preparedness, mitigation, and response efforts for the Covid-19 crisis. “This global Covid-19 pandemic had a profound impact in Pakistan, as it has around the world,” he said.

“The US-Pakistan health partnership helped contribute to better-than-expected Covid-19 outcomes in Pakistan, from training health workers to upgrading emergency operations centres and delivering ventilators, a personal promise by President Trump,” he added.

“Nonetheless, the health impacts are real and the economic fallout for Pakistan is likely to be serious. Beyond the immediate Covid-19 crisis, this is an important time in the broader US- Pakistan relationship.”

Outlining his priorities for his stint in Islamabad, if confirmed, Todd promised to focus on advancing human rights, particularly freedom of religion and freedom of expression; increasing bilateral trade and investment; expanding youth engagement; and a stronger US-Pakistan relationship.

Todd, a family man with four children, is a career diplomat in the Senior Executive Service at the State Department. During his 37-year career, he had previously served across six presidential administrations including ambassador to Cambodia and Brunei. He had also served in Afghanistan.

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