FOREIGN Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and (right) Robin L. Raphel address the webinar on Tuesday.—White Star
FOREIGN Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and (right) Robin L. Raphel address the webinar on Tuesday.—White Star

KARACHI: A nasty and vulgar cyberspace invasion from Indian individuals tried, but failed, to sabotage a webinar on ‘Reset of US-Pakistan Relations’ organised by the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations (KCFR) on Tuesday evening as the event went on successfully.

The principal speaker was Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. He said Indian leaders have publicly spoken about their desire to use military force against Pakistan. Nothing can be more irresponsible in a nuclearised environment.

He said while Pakistan will continue to work with the US for peace in the region, our relationship has to be larger. The advent of a new administration in Washington gives us an opportunity to have a long-term, broad-based and multidimensional relationship. Such a partnership will require an institutionalised and structural engagement that is based on mutual respect. [There should be] a strong US-Pak relationship on its own merits and on its own weight. It is compelling because of geo-economics.

Pakistan is a nation of 220 million people, two-thirds of whom are under 30 years of age. We sit at crossroads of China, South and Central Asia. Pakistan envisions itself as a future hub for trade in the region.

Experts suggest a broad-based approach to Pak-US ties in view of a new administration in Washington

Mr Qureshi said Pakistan and the US must work together to strengthen Afghanistan and seek opportunities for co-investment by Pakistan, Afghanistan, US and China. The potential for Pak-US relations in the economic sector is immense. The US is emerging as a major energy supplier.

Pakistan’s emphasis on providing high-quality subsidised healthcare to all its citizens actually predated the Covid-19 crisis but has acquired a greater urgency. Similarly, Pakistan has been a regional trailblazer in combating climate change. Our massive tree plantation drives have won international acclaim. We hope to get the Biden administration’s assistance in mitigating the health crisis and its economic fallout as well as combating climate change.

The foreign minister said eradiating corruption is high on our agenda. We welcome President Biden’s call on cracking down on money laundering and illicit safe havens that inflict enormous damage on developing countries. The people of Pakistan have always had personal affinity with the US. The commonality of values is ultimately the bedrock of any strong relationship.

“Our shared interests, common aspirations for economic development and enhanced connectivity in the region, and the rare moment of hope for peace in Afghanistan, provide a strong foundation for both sides to take the bilateral relationship forward,” he said.

After the speech, the foreign minister in response to a question said: “Our focus has shifted towards geo-economics and that demands peace in the region. That is why we have a new approach to Afghanistan, facilitating peace over there. We want a healthy relationship with India as well, but unfortunately the present regime [in India] has by their actions vitiated that.”

‘Disconnect is emerging in US-Pak relations’

Analyst Michael Kugelman of Woodrow Wilson International Centre said the US-Pak relationship already experienced a reset a few years ago when the Trump administration decided that it wanted to work with Pakistan to help launch a bilateral negotiation with the Taliban.

Once the two started cooperating on the Afghan reconciliation process the relationship stabilised. That remains the case today. The big question is whether the relationship [with the incoming Biden administration] will lose or progress the momentum that it enjoyed over the last two years. The simple answer is that it can go either way.

“I do feel that a disconnect is emerging in the relations. The government in Pakistan has been relatively quiet. What’s being said about Pakistan’s hopes for the relationship may not find that much sympathy with the next administration,” he said.

Ambassador Zamir Akram said foreign policy of any country is driven by its national security interests. The change of administration in Washington does not necessarily mean that the parameters of US foreign policy will change.

Former US ambassador Robin L. Raphel said a certain reset has already taken place but there’s still need for more to be done. The key to any constructive reset is to be honest with ourselves, with each other and tell each other the truth. The important truths are twofold. One, Pakistan is an important country. Two, the US is still the preeminent global power. Despite this, from the Pakistani perspective the US has appeared to be an inconstant friend, unable to take into account Pakistan’s national security concerns particularly with regard to India.

The US, for its part, has been frustrated when it saw Pakistan’s insufficient support for its efforts in Afghanistan. And the US has been perplexed by what it saw as Pakistan acting against its own long-term interests, particularly in support of various militant groups. Neither side worked hard enough to understand one another, she said.

Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry in his address made three initial points.

One, Pak-US relations have always oscillated. Second, the people-to-people contact has been robust. Third, the US has seen Pakistan through five lenses: security, China, Afghanistan, India and nuclear programme which has underrated Pakistan’s importance.

He argued with the Biden administration in place a broad-based approach to the ties was needed.

The event was moderated by Kalim Farooqui.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2021

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