WASHINGTON: The new US strategy for South and Central Asia sees Pakistan as a useful partner in a new Silk Road that links the two regions, says the State Department.
Briefing journalists on the fourth core group meeting in Islamabad this week, the department’s spokesman Mark Toner made it clear that the US considered Pakistan strategically vital but stressed the need for Islamabad to gel with the regional economy.
The core group represents the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the countries that are expected to play a crucial role in ending the Afghan conflict. The United States sent its special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mark Grossman, to Islamabad for the meeting.
While in Islamabad, Ambassador Grossman met the core group to discuss “the process of Afghan-led reconciliation, as well as regional economic development along the vision of the new Silk Road that Secretary Clinton laid out in Chennai,” Mr Toner said.
During a visit to Chennai last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged India to work with other regional states to revive the Silk Road.
“Historically, the nations of South and Central Asia were connected to each other and the rest of the continent by a sprawling trading network called the Silk Road,” she said.
“Indian merchants used to trade spices, gems, and textiles, along with ideas and culture, everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the banks of the Bosporus. Let’s work together to create a new Silk Road.”
Pakistan links South and Central Asia and there can be no land trade between the two regions without Pakistan’s participation.
The State Department’s spokesman said that Ambassador Grossman had “a very productive set of meetings” in Islamabad on both issues: the Afghan reconciliation process and the revival of the new Silk Road.
Besides attending the core group meetings, Ambassador Grossman also held meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and ISI chief Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha, the State Department said.
“In his meetings, in general, the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to the shared interest of our two countries, and acting on those interests in a joint way,” the spokesman said.
“We have said all along that we recognise that there are challenges in our relationship with Pakistan, but it’s in our strategic – both country’s strategic interest to work through those challenges and to build a long-term partnership.”
Mr Toner, however, refused to answer questions on drone attacks, saying he would not address that issue at all.
Responding to a question about the next round of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, which was scheduled in April but has not yet been held, the US official said he had nothing to announce.
The US, however, has continued to engage Pakistani officials on a number of levels.
Initially, it was the arrest of a CIA contractor in Lahore that caused the first delay but the dialogue was postponed indefinitely after the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.