NEW YORK: Pakistan and the United States are in the process of resetting their relationship against the backdrop of geopolitical shifts that have transformed the global and regional environment, a top Pakistani diplomat told a large gathering of American foreign policy experts, academics and businessmen.
Participating in a discussion at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a London-based international think tank, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations, said that an improved Islamabad-Washington relationship was important for global and regional peace and stability.
“The nature of the future relationship will determined by the terms of such re-engagement with the wider geopolitical dynamics obviously weighing in on calculations by the two sides,” Ambassador Lodhi said in her wide-ranging presentation.
Rick Grove, President of the US Friends of the IISS, presided over the hour-long discussion on “Pakistan’s relations with the US in a changing world” that also included Ambassador Robin Raphel, a former US Assistant Secretary of State, who last served as coordinator for non-military assistance to Pakistan.
Raphel said that despite ups and downs in their relationship, the United States, as a global power, can not ignore Pakistan which she said was an influential Muslim country, an emerging democracy with a powerful military.
The US diplomat noted Pakistan now feels more confident of itself because of its burgeoning relationship with China, and growing ties with Russia. Still, she said that Pakistan needs the United States.
Raphel underscored the need for US and Pakistan to collaborate in an effort to promote a settlement to end the war in Afghanistan. As a diplomat, she regretted that the overall efforts to deal with the Afghan war were more focused on a military solution rather than through a diplomatic process.
In her remarks, Ambassador Lodhi also insisted that peace could only be restored in Afghanistan through a negotiated settlement. “This is also the firm consensus of the international community expressed repeatedly by the Security Council at the United Nations,” she said.
The immediate challenge for both US and Pakistan, she said, was to find a common approach to Afghanistan even though both agreed that the stability and security of Afghanistan was a shared interest.
Noting that both countries have benefited when they worked together, the Pakistani envoy pointed out that Al Qaeda’s degradation in the region was the result of Pakistan-US cooperation.
“Indeed, no one desires peace in Afghanistan more than Pakistan,” Ambassador Lodhi told her audience.
Apart from the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan and its people had suffered the most from four decades of the Afghan conflict, blighting Pakistan with the flow of extremists and terrorists, guns and drugs as well as the influx of millions of refugees and setting back the country’s economic development by decades.
“But from Pakistan’s perspective the ‘new’ US strategy in Afghanistan relies overly on military force and more fighting to achieve an outcome, which has proved to be elusive using these means for the past decade and half”, the Pakistani envoy said.
“Neither Kabul and the Coalition, nor the Afghan Taliban, can impose a military solution on each other,” she said, adding, “We therefore feel the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan need to actively work toward a peace process.”
Pakistan, she said, believes that the immediate and realistic goals in Afghanistan should be concerted action to eliminate the presence in Afghanistan of Daesh, remnants of Al-Qaeda and their affiliates, including the Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan and promote negotiations between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban ‘in the Quadrilateral Coordination Mechanism’ to evolve a peaceful settlement.
Ambassador Lodhi said that Pakistan had successfully reversed the tide of terrorism by clearing its tribal and border areas of all militant groups.
The marked improvement in the country’s security environment has accompanied the revival of economic growth, which was returning to the historical level of 6 per cent. She said economic growth will receive a major impetus from projects of the China-Pakistani Economic Corridor (CPEC)– the pivot of Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative.
“In spite of having to face the headwinds from an unsettled international environment, Pakistan has managed to address its political, security and economic challenges to establish stability and consolidate its democracy in the midst of considerable regional turbulence.”
Pakistan, she added, was now experiencing the longest period of uninterrupted democracy in its 70-year history.
Although Pakistan’s counter-terrorism effort has resulted in the sharp reduction of terrorist activities across the country over the past two years, it had paid a heavy human and financial price for this success.
Over 27,000 Pakistanis including 6,500 military and law enforcement personnel have been martyred by terrorists.
Economic losses to the country are estimated at 120 billion dollars.
Reaffirming Pakistan’s commitment to fight terrorism and extremism, Ambassador Lodhi said, “Defeating terrorist violence is vital to realize our overriding priority of rapid economic and social development.”
But, the Pakistani envoy said, the continuing conflict in Afghanistan has posed enduring security challenges to the country. Pakistan has had to deal with raging turmoil and instability in its neighborhood for almost 40 years.
Pakistan still hosts over two and half million Afghan refugees and has done so for over 30 years.—APP