As the ministerial-level US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue resumed after a three-year hiatus on Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Pakistan has the potential to become a future economic tiger.
“The United States has no doubt that Prime Minister [Nawaz] Sharif’s policies will put Pakistan on a path towards a more prosperous future, and we fully support his goal of making Pakistan’s marketplace a tiger economy for the 21st century,” said Kerry, a Democrat senator who in the past spearheaded a multibillion-dollar support package for Pakistan.
Advocating stronger ties between the two allies, he commended Nawaz for the ‘tough choices’ he has made to reinvigorate Pakistan’s economy, and said that greater trade and investment between the two countries would make them more prosperous. The United States has added 1,000 megawatts of capacity to Pakistan’s troubled electricity grid and is looking at greater cooperation in energy, education and infrastructure, Kerry said.
While Kerry focused on aspects such as greater trade and investment between Washington and Islamabad, the Pakistani prime minister’s top aide on foreign affairs underscored that the two countries needed to avoid past mistakes as they ensure a stable Afghanistan post-2014.
“We have to ensure that Afghanistan successfully transitions into a period of stability and that past mistakes are not repeated,” Sartaj Aziz said at the opening day of the two-day meeting.
He said Pakistan wanted to transform the transactional relationship with the US to a strategic one, adding that he expected the US not to look at Pakistan from the two specific lenses of ‘Afghanistan’ and ‘terrorism’.
“Most of you will agree that historically, Pakistan’s security concerns were not taken into account when the US decided to withdraw from Afghanistan in the early 1990s after the defeat of the Soviet forces with Pakistan’s active support, or when it invaded Afghanistan after 9/11,” he said.
He also said that while the US concerns in the region were legitimate, they must be balanced by paying attention to Pakistan’s own security concerns, with more consideration for the long-term effect of Washington’s policies on Pakistan.
During the meeting, in which key officials discussed a blueprint for Pak-US relations in the wake of withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from the region, Aziz noted that events and irritants had interrupted the process of dialogue after 2011, but that the strategic relationship was back on track.
He also said that after reviewing the minutes of past meetings, he felt that mutual trust between US-Pak institutions along with a more even-handed approach to Indo-Pak issues would allow the countries to move towards a strategic partnership.
“There is a strong perception in Pakistan that while a lot of pressure is exerted on Pakistan on issues of concerns to India, our legitimate concerns are not conveyed to India with the same intensity,” he said. He also added that these key aspects would further enable the countries to build on partnerships in trade, energy and security.
Further expanding on the pullout of foreign forces from Afghanistan, Aziz said Pakistan would have to face the brunt of any instability that may engulf Afghanistan post 2014, and that it was ready to facilitate a peaceful reconciliation process.
In his address, Kerry said that while the US recognised Pakistan as a vital partner in securing Afghanistan, cross border terrorism was key point of the meeting.
He said the resumption of this Strategic Dialogue allowed the two countries to build on what was achieved during Nawaz’s visit to Washington last October.
“Building stronger ties with the people of Pakistan has long been a personal commitment of mine,” said Kerry. “I have been pleased to work to elevate this relationship to a true partnership.”
“We appreciate the efforts of the Pakistan government to stand up against extremists and extremism,” he said, adding that few countries have suffered more at the hands of extremism than Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2014.