WASHINGTON: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told US lawmakers on Saturday that Pakistan was seeking a broad-based, strategic partnership with America, which would also cover Afghanistan.
In virtual meetings with members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the foreign minister invited a group of 15 US lawmakers to visit Pakistan in June for consultations with their Pakistani counterparts and officials on how to improve bilateral relations.
During his meeting with the members of the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Mr Qureshi stressed the need for “a broad-based strategic partnership” that looks after the interests of both countries, said a statement issued after the meeting.
“Such a partnership will improve bilateral ties and will also help protect mutual interests within the South Asian region,” he said.
Encouraging regional trade and development would also be good for US-Pakistan ties, he added.
The foreign minister highlighted Pakistan’s efforts for promoting “a peaceful political settlement” in Afghanistan. “Peace in Afghanistan is a collective responsibility of all Afghan groups and of key external stakeholders” he said.
Members of the House Subcommittee appreciated Pakistan’s efforts for peace in Afghanistan and praised the role of the Pakistani-American community in promoting US-Pakistan relations, said another statement issued after the meeting.
In a separate meeting with another group of lawmakers, the foreign minister discussed the importance of regional peace and security in South Asia and suggested strengthening people-to-people ties with the United States.
Later, the foreign minister told journalists that he also discussed the Covid-19 situation with American lawmakers, informing them that the country had enough vaccines for now but may needed more to fight back the pandemic.
Mr Qureshi suggested maintaining regular virtual contact with American lawmakers to keep them informed of the regional situation, particularly of the developments in Afghanistan.
The foreign minister’s meeting with the lawmakers followed a congressional hearing on Afghanistan in Washington last week.
During the hearing, several US lawmakers and America’s chief negotiator for Afghanistan, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, discussed Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process.
They also discussed a recent claim by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that bringing peace to Afghanistan now was “first and foremost a matter of getting Pakistan on board” as the withdrawal of US troops would greatly reduce America’s influence in the country. “The US now plays only a minor role. The question of peace or hostility is now in Pakistani hands,” Mr Ghani said.
Congresswoman Sara Jacobs, a California Democrat, read Mr Ghani’s quote during the hearing and asked Ambassador Khalilzad “what specifically are you doing to ensure” that Pakistan continued supporting the US peace plan?
“I know there are challenges inside Pakistan, but I believe that Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s last visit to Kabul was positive. They have discussed some steps that the two sides will take … to improve bilateral relations…,” he said.
Congressman Ted Lieu, another California Democrat and a former US Air Force colonel, asked if Pakistan was so important for the success of the Afghan peace process, why was it not being treated accordingly.
“It seems to be disrespectful to not have invited the Pakistani leader to a climate summit (in Washington earlier this year) when the leaders of India and Bangladesh were invited,” he said.
“Of course, you are right. Pakistan is an important country. We have had periods of great cooperation with Pakistan. And Pakistan has a critical role to play in Afghanistan going forward and in a number of other issues,” Ambassador Khalilzad replied.
Responding to a question about this congressional hearing, Mr Qureshi said Pakistan plans to maintain regular contact with US lawmakers.
If the UN General Assembly held a physical meeting this year, Pakistan would invite some lawmakers to New York for a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan, he said, and another group would be invited to visit Pakistan in October.
Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2021