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Fanning differences won’t help improve US-Pak ties: Congressman

Updated December 21, 2018

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Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before a meeting in October. — File photo
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before a meeting in October. — File photo

WASHINGTON: Suspending aid and elevating controversial issues above all other concerns is not the way to deal with Pakistan, says Congressman Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat.

“I am disappointed in some of the remarks and actions that have been made by the Trump administration,” adds Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. “They do not characterise the totality of our relationship.”

Ms Jackson Lee, who chairs the Pakistan caucus in the US Congress and has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1995, believes that most American lawmakers want to retain a relationship with Pakistan.

Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Texan Democrat, also emphasised the need to maintain this relationship but urged Pakistan to reach out to the new leadership of the House, which is now dominated by the Democrats.

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The three lawmakers were guest speakers at a Pakistan Embassy event on Wednesday night, for considering options to revive the once powerful Pakistani caucus on Capitol Hill.

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They emphasised the need for involving the Pakistani-American community in the efforts to rebuild the troubled relationship and also underlined the need for a long-term strategy, which should include encouraging young Pakistani-Americans to work on the Hill as interns.

Congressman Swalwell argued that making Pakistan “secure and economically viable” was the best way to ensure to that “our common interests for security in the region are sustained”. He agreed with the US administration’s objective of encouraging Pakistan to root out “extreme actors and terrorists” from its territory but said the best way to do so was “talking behind closed doors, expressing your expectations, not by pulling aid”. What US President Donald Trump had threatened to do, he said, was not productive.

Congresswoman Jackson Lee acknowledged that the US-Pakistan relationship was going through a difficult phase but hoped that the situation would soon improve.

“What Pakistan has as strength is a very strong, productive Pakistani-American community. And, therefore, there is but so low that this relationship can go,” she said.

She noted that even though funds were cut in the House Appropriations Committee, the amendments that came to the floor to make it worse, did not pass.

“When we make individual calls to cabinet officials, they listen. I believe that as long as the door is open — and I certainly encourage that door to be open with the new PM (in Pakistan) — we are not going to close the door on US-Pakistan relations.”

She said she would like to see continued dialogue and engagement with Pakistan.

Congressman Cuellar said that sometimes friends do have differences but it’s important to continue to stay engaged with countries that were aligned with the same interests that the US does.

Mr Cuellar, who is associated with the Hispanic caucus, said they provide grants and scholarships to young Hispanics to work on the Hill and urged the Pakistani caucus to do the same.

The congressman, who has visited Pakistan twice, said there were challenges in that region and that’s why the US and Pakistan should develop a strong relationship that could “endure storms or sprinkles whatever comes in the way”. He noted that the chairperson of the Pakistan caucus knew the importance of Pakistan on the world stage and that’s why she and other members of the caucus wanted to retain a strong relationship with Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2018