WASHINGTON: Pakistan urged the United States on Thursday to restore military financing and sales suspended by the Trump administration as a senior US official acknowledged the importance of this bilateral relationship in a key strategic region.

“It is important that the US restores — for Pakistan — Foreign Military Financing and Foreign Military Sales, suspended by the previous administration,” Masood Khan, Pakistan’s envoy in Washington, said at a seminar in Washington.

US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Elizabeth Horst, however, focused on the need to help rebuild the troubled Pakistani economy and urged Islamabad to work with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to do so.

“The reforms that Pakistan and the IMF agreed to are not easy,” she said. “But it’s crucial that Pakistan take these actions to bring the country back to sound financial footing, avoid falling into further debt, and grow Pakistan’s economy.”

Washington asks Islamabad to implement ‘tough reforms’ agreed with IMF

Since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US-Pakistan relationship has been stuck in a prolonged period of uncertainty. Intensified US competition with China has further strained Pakistan’s relations with the United States, as did the country’s deteriorating economy.

But recently, there has been an increase in high-level diplomatic engagements and dialogues focused on trade, energy, education, health, and defence.

The half-day conference at Wilson Centre, Washington, focused on how the US-Pakistan relationship can be crafted against the backdrop of multiple challenging developments.

Ambassador Khan not only emphasised the need to rejuvenate once close relations between the United States and Pakistan but also underlined the role Washington can play in easing tensions between India and Pakistan.

“We do value the US encouragement to India and Pakistan to engage. But beyond that, the US could act as a catalyst to help resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute which has kept the region on the brink of war,” he said.

Responding to a question, Ambassador Khan said that Pakistan placed its first order for Russian oil and did so in consultation with the US government.

He also spoke about the role Pakistan can play in bringing stability to Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan’s stability is imperative, first and foremost, for its own people who have suffered grievously over the past four decades,” he said.

Noting that the United States and China were both concerned about the growth of terrorism in Afghanistan, he said: “Let’s work together to eliminate this threat. Today it is a threat for Pakistan and Afghanistan; if unchecked, it will spread to other parts of the region and beyond.”

Ms Horst also covered this issue, noting that both the US and Pakistan “want a region where terrorists pose no threats and borders are respected.”

Underlining the need to look beyond the challenges, Ms Horst urged both nations to work together on economy, trade, investment, regional stability, and especially on global challenges like the climate and health.

She, however, acknowledged that “the question on everybody’s mind right now is Pakistan’s immediate economic situation.” The United States, she said, “shares concerns about the sustainability of Pakistan’s current economic path” and “we also know that this economic situation has very personal consequences for tens of millions of Pakistanis who are tightening their belts”.

The United States, she said, would continue to support Pakistan through technical engagements and assistance, “particularly when it comes to encouraging Pakistan to enact policies that promote an open and fair, transparent business climate”.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2023

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