WASHINGTON: The United States and Pakistan have a lot to gain by working with each other, says a senior White House aide, Lisa Curtis, while Pakistan’s Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary argues that US-Pakistan relations should not be weighed in dollars.

Ms Curtis, deputy assistant to the US president on South and Central Asia, was the guest of honour at the Pakistan Day reception at the embassy on Friday night.

“We look forward to growing the US-Pakistan relationship, which has seen its challenges,” said Ms Curtis, who during a recent visit to Islamabad emphasised the need for a new relationship with Pakistan. This relationship, she said, should be “based on a shared commitment to defeat all terrorist groups that threaten regional stability and security as well as on a shared vision of a peaceful future for Afghanistan”.

Lisa Curtis urges ties should be based on a shared commitment to defeat all terrorist groups

Ms Curtis reiterated the need for rebuilding this relationship at the embassy’s reception as well, noting that the two countries had a long history of working together.

“While there were some challenges faced by the relationship, the two countries have a lot to gain by working with each other,” she added.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan, which began to strain in 2011, reached a new low in January when President Donald Trump suspended US security assistance to Islamabad over the alleged presence of Afghan militant groups in Fata. Pakistan rejects the charge as incorrect and says that it has eliminated all terrorist hideouts from Fata.

But in recent weeks, the two sides held a series of talks to improve relations — including a one-on-one meeting between Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and US Vice President Mike Pence in Washington last week.

The White House’s decision to send Ms Curtis to the embassy was interpreted as a goodwill gesture because in Pakistani circles she is seen as a hawk. Many in Pakistan believe that she advocates increasing pressure on Islamabad to persuade it to accept the new US strategy for South Asia, which gives India a greater role in Afghanistan.

In his address to the reception, Ambassador Chaudhary also noted this positive gesture, and urged both sides not to reduce this relationship to the suspension or resumption of US assistance.

“Pakistan and US share a multi-faceted relation, it cannot be weighed in dollars,” he said, adding that Pakistan was willing to work with all US officials including John Bolton, who was named the new US national security adviser this week.

“We are willing to work with all officials with an open mind and open heart,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s only agenda was ensuring regional peace.

“We want peace in Pakistan and peace in Afghanistan. We want Pakistan’s relationship with the US to strengthen. We will keep this agenda in front of Mr Bolton as well,” he said.

Ambassador Chaudhary noted that the US and Pakistan had successfully collaborated in the fight against terrorism in recent past and warned that ending this collaboration could be harmful.

The ambassador said that Pakistan wants peace in Afghanistan because it also benefits Pakistan but a true peace could only return if all stakeholders, including the Taliban, were included in the process. “It is essential for all stakeholders in Afgh­anistan to sit together and come up with a solution,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2018