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Pak-US relations are poised to grow: Pakistani envoy

Dr. Rabia Akhtar says Pakistan’s foreign policy direction and priorities must not change

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Washington: Pakistan’s Ambassador to United States Ambassador Masood Khan said that Pak-US relations are poised to grow with bright prospect, saying that though ebbs and flows have characterized the two countries’ relations while adding that such phenomena are common in all inter-state ties.

He said while addressing at a two-day conference organized by the Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research(CSSPR), University of Lahore (UOL), The School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council, and Engro Corporation. The conference brought together Pakistani and American experts and officials, to discuss a range of themes critical to the future of Pak-US relations.

Reminding the audience of the history of cooperation between the two countries, Pakistani envoy said both have benefited from this 75-year-old equation. He said: “We have been partners in war and peace,” adding that the spirit of solidarity between the two states remains intact, as evidenced by the help both countries extended to each other in Afghanistan and during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said, after careful deliberations in Islamabad and Washington, pragmatists agreed to explore new avenues to advance mutual interests.

Diplomacy, he stressed, has brought ties on an even keel, as government officials in both capitals think that they have been de-hyphenated from India and Afghanistan, adding that even China would not become a prism through which Pakistan would be looked at. He contended that engagements at the highest levels have enabled both countries to commit themselves to stabilizing Afghanistan, countering terrorism, and fostering regional security. Amb. Khan said, with both countries understanding each other’s strategic imperatives, no binary choices need to be made.

Turning to the avenues of cooperation between the two countries, the Pakistani ambassador reminded the audience that, start-ups have increased exponentially in Pakistan, and, coupled with the tech boom the country is witnessing, this development could prove to be propitious for U.S. investors. He added that the presence of US business giants in Pakistan, the burgeoning Pakistani-American community in the US, and the increasing trade volume between the two countries add strength, depth, and breadth to their relations. He talked about the devastation caused by the recent floods in Pakistan, adding that the country is looking to benefit from US technology and expertise in becoming more resilient to climate change. At the end of his address, Masood Khan stressed that both countries must work towards promoting conflict resolution, conflict/crisis management, and strategic stability in the region.

The conference was opened by a welcome address delivered by CEO and President, Atlantic Council, Fred Kempe. Lamenting the negative titles associated with Pak-US relations, Kempe said Pakistan is an enormous, resourceful, and important country, and therefore ties must be recalibrated and made even-handed. In his remarks, Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs, US Department of State, Dilawar Syed, spoke to the impacts of floods in Pakistan. He said dealing with them is the most compelling challenge for Pakistan. That said, he argued that this problem provides the U.S. an ideal opportunity to lend its succor to Pakistan, adding that most of what the U.S. is giving will be spent on attenuating food insecurities caused by this raging, climate change-induced disaster. He said Washington being Islamabad’s biggest export market, and its ongoing development-related works speak to the depth and breadth of Pak-U.S. relations. Further, he said collaborations in the fields of agriculture and energy are much-needed, and are therefore gaining traction during parleys. He said space has to be created to improve Pak-U.S. relations through consistent, substantive engagements between the two governments. Stressing the need for accelerating and buttressing Pak-U.S. economic relations, he said the U.S. private sector must play a greater role, and Pakistan must undertake a series of reforms to attract it.

The two session that followed the inaugural session were focused on discussing different perspectives, identifying areas of common concern, and shedding light on the opportunities provided for by technology to the Pakistani economy. The sessions were moderated by Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council, Shamila Chaudhary, and Director, Pakistan Initiative, Atlantic Council, Uzair Younus. The panelists included Director, CSSPR, Dr.Rabia Akhtar, Senior Advisor, South Asia, United States Institute of Peace, Daniel Markey, former Chief of Naval Staff, Pakistan Navy, Adm. Tahir Afzal, Director, China Program, Stimson Center, Yun Sun, former Chairman, Special Technology Zones Authority, Amer Hashmi, Co-founder and Managing Partner, Quona, Monica Brand Engel, CEO, EcoEnergy, Shazia Khan, and CEO, TRG International, Mohammed Khaishgi.

In the session entitled ‘Understanding Perspectives and Finding Commonalities in Theaters of Concern”, Daniel Markey said when the word ‘strategic’ is used in the context of Pak-U.S. relations, it includes things and aspects that are important to both countries. He said Pakistan’s economic success is not only critical for that country but also for the U.S., not least because failure in the said domain has security implications. Markey also argued that both Indo-U.S. relations and Pak-U.S. relations will impede Pak-U.S. relations, especially because both Pakistan and the U.S.  have chosen their strategic partners in China and India, respectively.

Dr. Rabia Akhtar said Pakistan’s foreign policy direction and priorities must not change, owing to changes at the helm in the capital. She added that Pakistan must focus on mitigating the deleterious effects of climate change, augmenting economic security, and ensuring regional peace and stability. On all these all-important objectives, she emphasized, a convergence can be found with the US She said Pakistan will continue to remind the US what it wants and as to what are some of its concerns. Moreover, she enunciated that it is important to remain involved in any process that the US launches in and for Afghanistan, not least because, sans peace, it would be unable to transform its economy and other elements of national power.

Yun Sun said China is optimistic about the future of Sino-Pak relations. She further remarked China is open to not only rejigging its ties with Pakistan but also to seeing that country iron out difference with the US Reiterating that Pak-US relations have not been enduring, Adm. Tahir Afzal said they must never be one-sided going forward. He emphasized the need for taking into account Pakistan’s perspectives and security woes. While saying Pakistan cannot fight on two fronts. The former Pakistani Chief of Naval Staff said his country needs reassurances of a safer, trouble-free milieu to its west, and that the U.S. can help assuage some of its fears.

In the last session of the day entitled ‘New Economic Opportunities in the Technology Sector’, panelists mapped the technology sector in Pakistan, the role US companies and investors are playing in that country, and the policy level bottlenecks that need to be navigated, with a view to producing better outcomes. Speaking to the need for harnessing the technological boom that makes Pakistani markets exciting, panelists opined that the government must look to facilitate the private sector so as to allow it to experiment and produce impactful results.

Panelists in Shazia Khan and Mohammed Khaishgi stressed the need for investing in Fintech and focusing on reshaping perceptions and reducing instability, respectively, to reinvigorate mechanisms to conserve energy and raise capital for start-ups and free-lancing activities, respectively. Amer Hashmi said digitalization of government ministries and departments is of the essence, not least because it is critical to changing governance for the better. He also Pakistan must commit to eliciting large-scale contracts through leveraging Special Technology Zones. The conference will focus on food security, regional mechanisms to tackle climate change, and Pak-US relations in multipolar environments.