WASHINGTON: National Security and Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz arrived in Washington on Sunday for US-Pakistan strategic dialogue which seeks to redraw a blueprint for a future relationship between the two allies.
The dialogue, which begins on Monday, resumes after a three-year gap and will focus on economic and security cooperation between the two countries.
“The security dialogue will focus on issues like reconciliation in Afghanistan and how Pakistan is addressing its own internal security challenges and what if anything the United States can do to help in that regard,” said a senior US official.
There will be a plenary session to kick off the Strategic Dialogue which Mr Aziz will chair while US Secretary of State John Kerry will lead the US team.
Senior representatives from the US Department of Defence, Energy, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, USAID, US Trade Representatives and the Department of Treasury will also attend the plenary session.
Pakistanis will also have separate meetings with their counterparts at departments of defence, energy, and at the White House with the US National Security Adviser.
“There will be a real opportunity for a robust discussion,” on economic cooperation, said another senior US official while briefing the media on the talks.
Water and Power Minister Khawaja Mohammed Asif will also participate in the talks with other senior officials from various departments.
“Pakistanis in particular have really tried to move this relationship to a much more trade-based one as opposed to just assistance,” the US official said.
The United States, he said, already had a direct bilateral economic relationship with Pakistan and it was also Pakistan’s largest market.
“We have an interest in Pakistan’s economic development. And we have an interest in Pakistan’s domestic security,” he said. “Pakistan is large, populous, a nuclear armed nation, and it’s important that its constitutional order and democratic processes continue to be strengthened.”
“One of the points of discussion will be how are things going in Afghanistan, what are the prospects for this year. The Pakistanis, for instance, have encouraged Afghanistan to go ahead and complete the Bilateral Security Agreement,” the official added.
A US official explained that the United States had been encouraging Pakistan to improve its relations with India and had welcomed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s initiatives aimed at achieving this goal.
“He’s taken some initiatives. He’s met with his Indian counterpart. And I expect they’ll want to tell us about what they see as the prospects in that regard,” the official said.
Another US official said the United States was also helping Pakistan overcome its energy crisis. “We’ve helped to put another thousand megawatts of power on the grid. But we’re really looking at regional solutions as well. Making sure that Pakistan is well integrated into a regional approach and this includes a $15 million commitment we made to CASA 1000,” the official explained.
The United States, he said, was also encouraging policy reforms because it believed that those reforms were important to address the energy crisis.
Emphasising the need for friendly relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the official pointed out that they had to learn to live with each other.
“Afghanistan’s principal gateway to the world is through Pakistan and Pakistan’s principal gateway to Central Asia is through Afghanistan,” he said.
The official noted that the Pakistani prime minister had a good working relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who leaves office later this year.
“But I think Prime Minister Sharif would … establish a comparable personal relationship with his successor … and would certainly want to sustain a productive relationship with Afghanistan,” the official added.