A LONG AWAITED MOVE
By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan
At the conclusion of Pak-US strategic dialogue, held from 24-25 March 2010, at Washington, a joint statement was issued. The statement highlights the salient of the dialogue process between Pakistani delegation headed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Overall, this was the fourth phase of the strategic dialogue process. Considering the constantly changing regional and global situation and steps needed to further fortify the bilateral relationship, the dialogue was elevated to the Ministerial level for the first time. The next round of the dialogue would be held in Islamabad. It was also agreed upon by both sides that through the establishment of a “Policy Steering Group”, sectoral dialogue process would be held between the two friendly countries. This process would encompass dialogue process in the fields of “economy and trade; energy; defense; security, strategic stability and non-proliferation; law enforcement and counter-terrorism; science and technology; education; agriculture; water; health; and communications and public diplomacy”.
The positive aspect of this dialogue process has been that, it was all encompassing and aspirations of the people of both countries were given a central position. In-spite of the upheavals in the history of Pak-US relationship, either side felt that Pak-US strategic relationship has the potential to be carried forward in the 21st century. This indeed is in the fundamental interest of both countries and can be ensured through mutual trust and mutual respect. In the wordings of the joint statement, “Both the United States and Pakistan are determined to foster goodwill and friendship between their people and engage in mutually beneficial cooperation”. Both sides stressed Restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan. U.S desires restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan before the beginning of its scheduled pulling out from that country in the mid 2011. Pakistan, however, considers that peace and stability in Afghanistan is must for the internal stability in Pakistan, as history proved.
With the mutual acceptability of each other’s role in the global war on terror, the host Secretary of State, boldly advocated the determination and valour with which Pakistani nation fought out the menace of terrorism in FATA and adjoining areas. Both countries decided to double their efforts in order to effectively deal with the “terrorism and to protect the common ideals and shared values of democracy, tolerance, openness and respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights”. Since the dialogue took an overview of all issues, therefore, US made a commitment for assisting Pakistan in its socio-economic uplift through the utilization of human and natural resources and entrepreneurial skills. In-spite of the apprehensions from certain quarters, about the likely US involvement in FATA affairs, Pakistan emphasized the host, for the early establishment of the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs). This aspect is considered to be the most essential for the creation of employment opportunities to the people of the tribal belt. The opportunity would enable all those engaged in the militancy under any ploy to extricate, get an employment and start playing positive role. It is worth mentioning that most of the people have been attracted to work with militants, as they had no jobs. On the other hand, the militants have been offering them quite lucrative packages to kill the innocent people and the personnel of security forces of Pakistan.
From the Pakistani side the emphasis remained on the market access for its manufactured goods, rather asking for financial aid. However, both sides decided to discuss the Bilateral Investment Treaty, and possibility of creating an investment fund for boosting the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Pakistan. Through the “Signature Energy Program”, US promised to help Pakistan in overcoming its ongoing worst energy crises. For that purpose, U.S has already announced $125 million as the first instalment. This financial aid will be aimed at “repairing generation facilities, improving the overall effectiveness of local utilities providers, replacing inefficient tube well pumps and promoting energy efficiency”. Since Pakistan is seriously facing the water shortages, mainly caused due to the unlawful Indian water manipulation of the water of three Pakistani rivers flowing from Indian occupied portion of Kashmir, therefore, US has promised to facilitate Indo-Pak talks on the issue. Even a separate sectoral track has been added in the strategic dialogue, which will focus on the conservation and management of water through US help.
Most of the analysts consider that this round of the strategic dialogue was conducted in a smooth manner with a complete unanimity of thoughts from both sides. Some quarters even see this as a strategic shift in the US approach towards Pakistan, quite converse to the infamous AfPak Policy. Indeed, the Obama Administration while rationally visualizing the situation in Afghanistan and along Pak-Afghan border has decided to revisit its earlier policy, and failed strategy of neoconservatives for invading Afghanistan. This long drawn-out counterproductive war has priced heavily to US in term of finances and casualties to its combat soldiers apart from damaging its image. With the passage of time, it is taking the shape of Vietnam War. For the US, it may not be possible to support the war for a longer duration, owing to its rapidly falling economy.
Beside, U.S also realized the significance of Pakistan, which it has been ignoring for quite some time. It has also realized the negative role played by India to destabilize the situation along the Pak-Afghan border and in some parts of Pakistan by promoting the terrorism and sub nationalistic sentiments. Indeed, Indian role in Afghanistan has discredited the US and its quick success to stabilize Afghanistan went into doldrums. It was also identified to President Obama by General MacCrystal, the US Force Commander in Afghanistan in his detailed assessment report, which perhaps became a cause for the change of hearts in the Whitehouse. Though belated, but it is a correct visualization of the new developments in Afghanistan. This change in perception was much needed. There is no second opinion that for a durable peace and an honourable exit, US will have to work in the close harmony with Pakistan and Afghan people. In this regard, the reiteration by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State that, this is a new beginning in the Pak-US relationship and this partnership would go a long way is a positive step.
Pakistan considers that prolonging the Afghan conflict is neither in its interest nor would benefit the United States. Afghan people have otherwise suffered a lot since 1979 and particularly during the US invasion. The conflict has severely damaged the social set up of Pakistan and threatened its internal security and stability. The sooner we are over with it; the better would be for all stake holders. Since the wisdom has prevailed, therefore, let us join hands for bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan with sincerity. However, for a durable peace, the Pashtun people forming bulk of Afghanistan, but have been ignored over the years needs to be given their equitable share in all fields. Moreover, all foreign involvements in the Afghan affairs should be ceased. Let Afghan people to decide their future themselves. In the longer run, this would be a win win situation for Pakistan, US, Afghanistan and all its neighbours.
Dr Raja Muhammad Khan has done his doctorate in International Affairs from Quaide Azam University Islamabad. He is an Associate professor at National Defence University Islamabad. He is a South Asian analyst and a regular contributor to www.oly.com.pk