Pakistan presents blueprint for ‘ties’ to Biden admin

Plan seeks cooperation not based on security, defence but economy, trade and business

Kamran Yousaf May 26, 2021
National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yousuf. PHOTO COURTESY: USIP


When the newly appointed National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf quietly met his US counterpart Jake Sullivan in Geneva last Sunday, he presented him with a “Pakistani plan” that envisages the future of Pakistan-US relationship.

Breaking from the past practice, the plan seeks bilateral cooperation with the US not based on security and defence but economy, trade and business.

Sources familiar with the development told The Express Tribune that Pakistan is seeking a “paradigm shift” in its approach as far as ties with the US are concerned.

Relationship between Pakistan and the US has often been seen as transactional as Islamabad for long relied on the country’s strategic location for leverage with Washington.

Read: Pak, US NSAs meet in Geneva for crucial talks

However, there has been a consensus among the policymakers that Pakistan needs to move away from geo-strategic to geo-economics. At an Islamabad Security Dialogue held earlier this year, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership talked about that shift.

In line with that approach, Prime Minister Imran Khan in March formed an Apex Committee that was tasked with formulating a new strategy on ties with the US under the Biden administration.

The 14-member committee is headed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and comprises ministers for finance, national food security, economic affairs, information technology, national security adviser, and PM’s aides on commerce, climate change, human resource development, power and investment.

The Terms of Reference of the committee solely focused on finding ways and means to seek cooperation between Pakistan and the US in the fields of economy, trade, business, energy, technology and climate change.

This is seen as a clear departure from the earlier approach adopted by Pakistan and the US that largely focused on security cooperation with Afghanistan.

Sources said Moeed went to Geneva with a ‘blueprint’ envisaging Pakistan’s desire to broaden relationship with the US beyond security cooperation and Afghanistan.

Different ministries and departments made several proposals identifying potential areas of cooperation between Pakistan and the US. The Board of Investment (BoI) has proposed to attract more US foreign direct investment in Pakistan, especially through technology firms. The BoI also seeks US investment through special incentive regimes.

The Ministry of Commerce has suggested that an American-Pakistan Economic Zone could be set up near Karachi port to allow reprocessing at concessional rates.

It has also proposed to enhance structured engagement through TIFA Ministerial Council and Business Opportunities Conference. Last time, the TIFA council meeting was held in May 2019. The US-Pakistan TIFA is the primary mechanism for both countries to discuss trade and investment issues and focus on ways to strengthen the bilateral relationship.

The United States continues to be Pakistan’s largest market for exports.

The Ministry of Commerce has also sought early finalisation of proposed legislation on Reconstruction Opportunity Zones, which had been promised by the Bush administration in return for Pakistan’s support to the US war in Afghanistan.

Read more: Qureshi meets US lawmakers, discusses bilateral relations

However, it is not clear if the Biden administration is receptive to the idea given its strategic priorities and close ties with India. Also, close ties between Pakistan and China can be a major factor that may desist the US seeking broader engagement with Pakistan.

It is believed that given the conversation, Pakistani authorities have had so far with the new US administration, Washington has linked future cooperation with Pakistan delivering on the Afghan peace process.

Unlike the past, this time the US does not want to give any incentives to Pakistan before the Afghan endgame. If there is a peace deal to the satisfaction of the US, there is a likelihood of Washington offering certain incentives to Islamabad on trade, economy and other issues.

Meanwhile, sources said Moeed may visit Washington soon following his recent meeting with the US NSA.