WASHINGTON, June 4 : While appreciating positive signals that Prime Minister-in-waiting Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has sent on some vital regional and international issues since his May 11 election victory, a top aide to the U.S. administration has said Washington is committed to advancing relationship across the board with Pakistan. Ambassador Robin Raphel, who advises U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, spoke along with officials and experts from both countries as they weighed in on the future of U.S.-Pakistan wide-ranging relationship. At the outset of her remarks, Ms. Raphel noted that from a low point in relations in 2011-12, the two countries are now in a different place and that they are working together to reset the relationship for a pragmatic and realistic cooperation in economic, investment, trade, counterterrorism areas and Afghan reconciliation process.
“He (Mr. Sharif) has already sent very positive signals publicly by stating his interest in strengthening the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, his commitment to energy and economic reforms and his desire for improving ties with both India and Afghanistan”, Ms. Raphel observed.
Ambassador Raphel, who has a longstanding experience in dealing with U.S.-Pakistan relations, was speaking at a conference on the Capitol Hill, where Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations AmbassadorMasood Khan and Charge d Affairs at the Pakistani embassy in Washington Dr. Asad M Khan reciprocated her emphasis on fostering mutually beneficial and respectfulties.
Washington sees Pakistan as pivotal to its smooth military drawdown from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and Pakistan, in turn, wants U.S. support forits economic revival. But experts at the conference underlined that the twocountries need to resolve the contentious drone issue so that it may not overshadow the cooperative ties.
The conference, organized by the Pakistani American Congress on U.S.-Pakistan Friendship, featured remarks by U.S. lawmakers and some leadingexperts including Dr. Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at theAmerican University, former Pakistan ambassador to the United States Touqir Hussain and Dr. Marvin Weinbaum, who heads the Center for Pakistan Studies at Washington’s Middle East Institute.
In her speech, Ms. Raphel particularly noted that his very strong mandate gives Mr. Sharif an opportunity early in his tenure to address the serious challenges that Pakistan faces today including energy shortages, economic stagnation and violent extremism.
For our part, the United States remains deeply committed to strengthening our long-term bilateral relationship across the board, she said.
“We look to the future where increased economic linkages both between the United States and Pakistan and across the region provide a foundation forrelationship. We really are interested in promoting private sector ties between our two countries”, Ms. Raphel, a former career diplomat, added.
She also listed some fruitful results of U.S. assistance for Pakistan in the last three years including support on adding 900 MW of much-needed powerto Pakistan’s national system and Washington’s largest Fulbright educationprogram for the country. Ambassador Raphel told the conference, where leaders ofPakistani American Congress urged making trade instead of aid as the bedrock ofrelations, that the U.S. would hold a conference in the Arab Gulf to highlightPakistan’s tremendous investment potential.
On confronting the menace of terrorism, which she termed as a primary concern, Ms. Raphel said Pakistan and the United States have been working closelyon this difficult issue.
She acknowledged the fact that Pakistan suffered 40,000 casualties in the face of terrorist attacks in the last decade.
Mr. Sharif has publicly committed to ensuring that Pakistan will not be used as a base from which to conduct any terrorist attacks, she noted.
Ms. Raphel also saw another good sign in Mr. Sharif’s statements on Afghanistan ahead of his assumption of power.Pakistan has articulated its view that stability and peace in Afghanistan is one of its core objectives, she said.
“We believe that there can be an Afghan-led political process that leads to a stable and secure Afghanistan but also takes into account Pakistan’slegitimate interests”.
Ms. Raphel also found it encouraging that Nawaz Sharif has set a positive tone on repairing Pakistan-India relations, including his gesture toinvite his Indian counterpart to visit Pakistan.
This has raised prospects for progress on India-Pakistan front, she said, remarking that both countries have made some progress. She also argued that increased trade would help Pakistan tremendously.
As they (Pakistan and India) continue to expand trade — when trade opens up there will be possibility for discussion and collaboration on other issues and this will ultimately help bring greater stability to the region.
Away from the Afghanistan conflict which has been dominating headlines since 9/11-triggered U.S. fight against al-Qaeda and subsequently the Taliban insurgency Ms. Raphel recognized Pakistan’s key importance at the strategic confluence of important regions.
“We believe Pakistan has a significant role to paly in the largermultilateral perspective —- Pakistan has long been one of the world’s largestcontributors of troops to UN peacekeeping missions —- as the multilateral worldexpands and diversifies, we look forward to Pakistan playing a positive role onthe 21st century global challenges such as climate change food security, globalhealth.
“So, while we need to remain clear-eyed about Pakistan’s enormous challenges like economic and security, I definitely see the glass half full.
The compelling interests, whether it is economic and security, Afghanistan and so on, will require both the U.S. and Pakistan to work togetherin the spirit of friendship and mutual respect. And for these reasons and manymore we will remain committed to a lasting partnership with Pakistan,” she concluded.
In his keynote address, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Masood Khan said the two countries have a criticalbond and a longstanding relationship. The two sides should build on convergences and bridge divergences to strengthen their relations, he stressedPakistani Americans were a soft power for Pakistan in America because they had earned prestige and distinction in this land of opportunity.
They had demonstrated to the Americans that Pakistanis are diligent, talented andresponsible citizens. Pakistani Americans have been ambassadors of goodwill between Pakistan and the United States, he said.
Ambassador Khan said that with the new Government in Islamabad, a new beginning can be made for engagement on the whole spectrum of relations coveringstrategic, political, economic and cultural dimensions.
Stable relations between Pakistan and the U.S. are good for the two countries, for the region, and for world peace and stability.
A strong strategic partnership requires that the two countries demonstrate commitment to each other’s core national interests. As Pakistan continues to negotiate a wrenching transition to stability and economic development, it will need help in the energy and education sectors. The US entrepreneurs, educationists, and scientists can help us in this regard.
Pakistan and the U.S. should hold intense dialogue to resolve divisive issues like drone operations, which violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and cause civilian fatalities. The issue is used as a recruitment tool by terroristsand puts the entire Pakistani population at risk because of the random retaliations by militants, he stated.
Before 2014 and in the post-2014 period, Pakistan and the US need to collaborate to support transitions taking place in Afghanistan: reconciliationand economic reconstruction. Pakistan supports peace and stability in Afghanistan. Multiple transitions reconciliation, security, and electoral must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.
Charge d Affairs at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, Dr. Asad M Khan, speaking in the backdrop of 2011-12 difficulties in relations between Islamabad and Washington, said now the bilateral relations are on an upward trajectory.
Khan noted that in their phone conversations to congratulate Nawaz Sharif, the U.S. leaders including President Barack Obama have expressed the desire to work together to strengthen bilateral ties.
Dr. Weinbaum said the U.S. and Pakistan are on the same page with regard to bringing stability to Afghanistan but the difficulty lies in actualizing the goal that would involve a Taliban agreement with Kabul.
He argued that President Obama, in his counterterrorism speech last month, should have made an effort to address Pakistan’s concerns on the issue.
Had President Obama said directly to Pakistan something on finding a mutually satisfactory policy on the drones, it would have made things a lot easier for Pakistani leaders, he remarked.