KARACHI: A webinar on ‘Reset of US-Pakistan Relations’ was organised on Tuesday evening by the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations (KCFR).

Speaking on the occasion and to lay out the future for the ties between the two countries, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security and Strategic Planning Dr Moeed Yusuf said, “Where do we want to go is the real question?” He argued that the administration in the US that’s going to take over has a lot of people who are well known to Pakistani officials and interlocutors.

“The difference is that we are now going to reengage in a completely different world; it’s a critical point that both sides must internalise.”

‘Biden and his team are familiar with Pakistan and the region’

Expanding on the argument he made three points. One, It’s a new world because Afghanistan is in a different situation today than in 2016. There’s a peace and dialogue process and we do have a timeline to achieve peace. The entire world has acknowledged it, including the US acknowledges Pakistan’s role in it. Second, there is a major change in terms of the US itself — the internal issues that we’ve seen there [recently]. Third, we are dealing with a very different India. We are seeing an India that’s now being called out for its fascism, for its approach towards exclusion of millions of people, for its approach in disputed territories such as Kashmir by the western press, by the US Congress, and by the British parliament. We’re dealing with an India which may be seen by some as a counterweight to China but for the region it’s a country which has a conflict with every neighbour and has become a liability. It links to the internal reality of Pakistan.

Dr Yusuf said, “This opens a real opportunity for Pakistan and the incoming administration in the US to have a conversation where we have a truly bilateral relationship. Not a relationship from an Afghan lens or India lens or China lens. It may be more modest but truly looks and sees where mutual interest lies.” We, he added, would be looking for: first, Pakistan, as instructed by the prime minister, is formally on an economic security paradigm. Pakistan’s focus is on economic security. Pakistan is interested in the world and the US benefitting from Pakistan’s geo-economic location and treat us as a melting pot for positive global economic interests. We are offering economic basis now. It has three pillars: connectivity, development partnerships not assistance and responsibility within Pakistani citizens and beyond borders in terms of regional peace.

‘The best time to engage’

Former US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter said this was the best time to engage for the two countries. He pointed out Pakistan 10 years ago, when the Raymond Davis case began, got a lot of attention in America which was not good attention. Now is the time to create a new way of doing things. There will be a new style among the Americans. It will be a lot more multilateral than we’ve had in the past because the people in the new administration are going to be looking at solving problems through multilateral means.

“It’s interesting to see, for example, with Europe the Americans will engage on climate change, on the pandemic, on trade and on digital governance. These are global issues. I urge you to expect from the US [that] you’ll be hearing about these global issues.”

Trust deficit

Professor at IBA Karachi Dr Huma Baqai said for Joe Biden there would be a lot of damage control, course correction and image building both externally and internally. [Therefore] “I don’t see a lot of space for Pakistan. We will never be more than a contingent partner. The trust deficit continues to haunt Pakistan.”

Senior Research Professor at SAIS Johns Hopkins University, Dr Daniel Markey said President-elect Biden and his team were familiar with Pakistan and the region.

They would like to begin a new chapter in relations with Pakistan. If we go back, not so long ago, this is Biden who during the Obama administration frequently made the point that Pakistan more than Afghanistan should be Washington’s principal strategic focus in the region. He [Biden] appreciates both Pakistan’s scale and strategic and human significance on its own terms. But, also, Biden was back then profoundly frustrated with attempts to engage with Pakistan’s leadership and to gain a better understanding of what Pakistan really wanted from the US in the region.

“I recall him specifically saying things like ‘why can’t Pakistan make it clear to us what its vision for Afghanistan’s future ought to be’.”

The event was moderated by Moin Fudda.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2021

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