WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is scheduled to hold three crucial meetings when he arrives in the United States next month but Pakistan does not yet have an ambassador in Washington to plan for these vital engagements.
Although the prime minister is coming to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, his expected meetings with three key world leaders, US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has added new significance to the visit.
Diplomatic observers in Washington say that the meetings would focus on one issue, the Afghan conflict, which has a direct impact on Pakistan’s security as well.
The United States plans to withdraw most of its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year and is trying to make an arrangement with major regional players to ensure a smooth exit.
Washington feels that there can never be a lasting peace in Afghanistan unless India and Pakistan are on the same page.
The Indians want to retain the influence they have developed in Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taliban regime whereas Pakistan fears that a strong Indian presence there can affect its own security.
“We are surprised that Pakistan does not have an ambassador in the US capital during this crucial process,” said a Washington insider.
“While the acting ambassador, Dr. Asad Majeed, is doing a fine job, the country does need a regular envoy now,” he added.
Pakistan’s former ambassador Sherry Rehman resigned on May 13 after PPP lost the general elections and returned to Karachi.
“Washington is too sensitive a place to be left vacant for three months,” said the insider. “But Prime Minister Sharif’s visit has further enhanced the need for an ambassador.”
During a visit to Islamabad last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that President Obama wanted to meet Prime Minister Sharif sometime next month.
It is still not clear if the two leaders will meet in New York during the UNGA or the prime minister would visit Washington for a bilateral meeting.
But a US official, when contacted by Dawn, said that the Obama-Sharif meeting will not “just be a sideline affair” during the General Assembly. “It will be an exclusive and substantial meeting wherever it takes place.”
Diplomatic observers say that the revival of the strategic dialogue further underlines the need for a regular envoy in Washington for facilitating preliminary work on this important process.
During this period, senior US lawmakers also made half a dozen visits to Pakistan, reflecting their desire to stay engaged with this key nation which has to be included in any effort for restoring peace to Afghanistan.
Also this week, the United States braced itself for an expected al Qaeda attack on American interests and personnel abroad.
Washington temporarily closed 22 diplomatic missions in the Muslim world and warned Americans to avoid unnecessary travels.
Sources on Capitol Hill say that increased security fears and their desire for a smooth transition in Afghanistan have further increased US lawmakers’ interests in Pakistan.
“Islamabad needs a senior envoy now to engage the lawmakers, informing them of Pakistan’s interests and the role it can play in ensuring US security abroad,” said a congressional aide.