ISLAMABAD: The bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the United States is regaining momentum following the ‘Cablegate’ hiccup, with both sides engaging far more frequently now than in the recent past.
The two sides have, in the recent engagements, agreed on making their relationship broad-based — one that looks beyond the traditional areas of security, strategic concerns and Afghanistan.
It was towards this goal that both sides held working-level meetings on law enforcement and economy this past week. A meeting on the health sector is also scheduled to take place soon.
The past couple of weeks have seen a spate of hectic activity, especially since Ambassador Donald Blome formally took charge. Although sworn in on April 11, 2022, the envoy arrived in the country in late May.
Ambassador’s appointment, successive trips by US officials aimed at speeding up ‘deepening of ties’
Insiders suggest that the reasons behind the current flurry are not just political; the ending of Covid restrictions means that recent weeks have seen more visits from US officials than previous years.
In addition, a full ambassador is far more empowered than a chargé d’affaires, and Ambassador Blome’s arrival is definitely helping speed things along.
In his maiden meeting with the prime minister, the ambassador thanked Pakistan for the prompt and effective assistance provided during the evacuation of US personnel and refugees from Afghanistan. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to promoting peace and stability and averting a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
For his part, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif underscored Pakistan’s desire to further develop the relationship between Islamabad and Washington on the basis of “mutual respect, trust, and interest”, a press release issued after the meeting said.
In their meeting, the prime minister impressed upon the envoy the opportunities offered by Pakistan’s “economic and demographic potential” for US companies, which should be encouraged by the US Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to invest in this large market.
It is worth noting that mending ties with the US is current government’s top foreign policy priority and the coalition has taken several steps to address US concerns.
Pakistan is also seeking resumption of Strategic Dialogue with the United States that has been suspended since 2016, something the US side is apparently not too keen on.
Washington thinks that the Strategic Dialogue had lacked substance and Pakistan used it more for optics. But there are those who say that the US also doesn’t want to upset New Delhi by moving in that direction. It is, instead, inclined towards working-group meetings.
Top Pakistan-origin official’s visit
Parallel to this was the visit by US Special Representative on Business and Commercial Affairs Dilawar Syed. Mr Syed is the highest ranking Pakistani origin American in the Biden administration. He is visiting Pakistan for exploring the possibility of strengthening commercial ties.
Wrapping up his visit on Sunday, Mr Syed said the US continued to encourage Pakistan to improve the business climate to make it easier for US businesses to invest, operate and create job opportunities in the country.
During his visit to Islamabad, Dilawar Syed held meetings with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Commerce Minister Syed Naveed Qamar and discussed decades-long history of economic partnership between the United States and Pakistan.
Mr Syed, who was accompanied by Ms Gaia Self, regional policy lead for Europe and Central Asia at the DFC, also met Finance Minister Miftah Ismail and showed interest in investment in various sectors, including wind, renewable energy, textile and agricultural sector.
It was shared that the DFC is planning to revise the power purchase agreements of its sponsored wind power projects depending upon the support and cooperation of the government of Pakistan.
The finance minister briefed the US delegation on the economic challenges being faced by the present government, and on the reforms in policies that have been undertaken by the present government to tackle these challenges. It was further shared that these reforms are aimed at enhancing the GDP growth, attracting the foreign direct investment and augmenting the exports of the country.
Earlier, the first US official to arrive was Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Todd Robinson, who visited Pakistan from June 29 to July 2 for discussions on international law enforcement and counter-narcotics initiatives. In his meetings with Pakistani officials, Robinson, according to the US Embassy, discussed counter-narcotics cooperation, gender issues, transnational crime and border security.
Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2022