‘Pakistan – United States Relations: The Way Forward’

His Excellency Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi Sb

Excellencies

Distinguished panelists for today’s seminar

Ladies and Gentlemen!

It gives me great pleasure to extend to you all a very warm welcome on behalf of Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI). We are grateful to you for accepting our invitation to attend this Seminar on Pakistan – US Relations.

The theme of the Seminar ‘Pakistan – United States Relations: The Way Forward’ has been chosen after careful deliberation to reflect the fact that there have been fundamental changes to both the nature and the dynamics of this relationship. We, therefore, intend to contribute to the discussion on building a more cooperative relationship.

As you may have noticed from today’s program that His Excellency Mr Qureshi’s keynote would be followed by presentations by experts on the various dimensions of the relationship, which would not only help us understand the current state of the relationship, but also better comprehend Prime Minister Imran Khan’s upcoming visit to the United States, which we believe would be very important for re-setting this relationship.

The relationship between Pakistan and the United States has a long history. We have remained allies for over five decades. But, we also had a few rough patches in between. Without going into historical details, I’ll briefly touch upon last couple of years. The relationship had been in a difficult phase in recent years. Differences peaked after Trump administration announced its conditions-based Afghanistan strategy in August 2017. It employed coercive tools against Pakistan and inhibited meaningful engagement between the two countries.

Subsequent developments including New Year Tweet in 2018 by President Trump; suspension of aid and military assistance and training further deepened the trust deficit between both countries. Additionally, Washington applied financial coercive measures including increasing pressure via Financial Action Task Force (FATF). At its core were strategic divergences over Afghanistan and deepening Indo-US defence cooperation.

The change in US approach towards Pakistan followed a shift in its strategy on Afghanistan, when President Trump formally sought Pakistan’s help in facilitating a dialogue with Taliban. Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf government responded positively to the request and not only Pakistan facilitated the initiation of the dialogue and subsequently maintained a strong liaison with the process, but also called for a reduction of violence by all sides and took active steps needed to help the process.

We must not forget that it has been Pakistan’s consistent position that there was no military solution to the conflict and that the only sustainable path to peace in Afghanistan was through dialogue. Other major stakeholders, however, took their time arriving at this conclusion. We note that significant progress towards a political settlement of the Afghan conflict has been made and there is now greater hope for peace than ever before.

The general perception preceding the prime minister’s visit to US is also that Mr Imran Khan has been invited by Trump Administration to seek his assistance in taking the progress achieved so far to its logical conclusion.

This is very much understandable. We, however, believe that there are several other potential areas that may help to put the ties on an even keel including cooperation for reconstruction in Afghanistan and rehabilitation of its economy, collaboration on regional connectivity projects, making combined efforts for eliminating Daesh from the region, and investment opportunities for US businessmen in Pakistan. Similarly, the two sides can work together on regional peace and strategic stability issues.

The White House Statement on the visit was particularly encouraging because it showed that the agenda for the visit was much more broad-based then the public perception.

We at IPI believe that for a meaningful shift in this very important relationship, the United States would have to review its Indo-Pacific Strategy. Pakistan is in no way opposed to Indo-US relations, but Pakistan’s regional security concerns too are genuine and need to be addressed. Similarly, the United States instead of seeing China-Pakistan relations, particularly, CPEC as a challenge needs to view it as opportunity that has the potential to address Pakistan’s long-running economic challenges and also be a contributor to regional development.

It is important that Pakistan and the United States must immediately revive the Strategic Dialogue as a first step towards a larger process of trust building and cooperation. The bottom line, however, remains that both sides must recommit to principles of mutual respect and finding common ground on issues of mutual interest.

Today we are privileged to have Foreign Minister Qureshi and number of other leading experts to deliberate on these aspects. We are deeply appreciative of them for finding time in their busy schedules to participate in this seminar. We welcome free and frank exchanges in all our discussions, regardless of whether the expressed views are at variance with those of our Institute. It is only with an open, wholehearted approach that a Conference like this will be truly useful in enabling us to improve our knowledge and understanding of critical national and regional issues.

I thank you all.

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