New approach in ties with US
ISLAMABAD: In a qualitative difference in Pakistan’s approach to the United States, Islamabad will, at the renewed Strategic Dialogue with Washington, seek ‘tangible deliverances’ particularly on its strategic concerns and wouldn’t settle for short-term relief measures.
The fourth round of the Strategic Dialogue on March 24, being dubbed by Pakistan’s foreign policy gurus as the ‘renewed process’, is expected to be one of the most intense diplomatic engagements the two countries had in the recent past.
Major politico-security stakeholders, including several federal ministers, army chief, director-general of ISI, and a number of federal secretaries will leave for Washington on Saturday to attend the meeting. The US representation at the dialogue, upgraded to ministerial level, will be equally strong. The team will be headed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Other members will be National Security Adviser James Jones, Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and a number of other top officials of the Obama administration.
The level of participation by both sides, analysts believe, is indicative of the desire of Islamabad and Washington to give a new meaning to their bilateral relations hitherto marred by trust deficit.
“This round is going to determine the future of Pakistan’s relations with the United States,” a top official told Dawn, after attending one of the preparatory sessions aimed at developing a unified perspective among the country’s state organs for this engagement with Washington.
Pakistan is often referred to by Washington as a ‘key regional player’ and a ‘major non-Nato ally’ with whom it eyed a ‘long-term engagement’, but it is probably the first time that Islamabad’s strategists are feeling that the time has come to tell Washington to move on from symbolism and concretely address Pakistan’s core security concerns and its immediate economic needs.
Among the issues on which Islamabad desires solid assurances are protection of its legitimate interests in Afghanistan; normalisation of relations with India, including resolution of the Kashmir issue; end to instability in Balochistan; accepting Pakistan as a declared nuclear weapons state and thereby quashing all rumours that the US was secretly working to defang the country.
On Pakistan’s wish-list is also a strong desire for civilian nuclear cooperation on the pattern of India-US deal. Although Pakistan primarily wants nuclear cooperation to meet its growing energy needs, the issue has a political connotation also because Islamabad doesn’t want to see itself discriminated against and at a disadvantage vis-à-vis India.
Strong emphasis from the Pakistani side, senior diplomats at the Foreign Office say, is also expected on market access for its products to US and economic assistance at the dialogue, which now includes new strands like strategic stability, security, public diplomacy and health.
The Pakistani contingent will specifically tell the American interlocutors that the economic assistance needed to be fast tracked to arrest the economic decline believed to have been worsened because of the war on terror. The disbursement of Coalition Support Fund, a mechanism for repaying expenses incurred by Pakistan for supporting US counter-terrorism operations, has been sluggish and so has been the release of funds under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act. Only $400 million has so far been released under the aid legislation enacted last year.
Pakistan this year slashed its public sector development programme by over Rs150 billion because of shortage of funds.
Quite pragmatically, Pakistani policymakers are not deluding themselves into believing that their ties with the US will transform overnight and they will gain major concessions. But, they want the process to start.
“The extent to which the US is ready to accommodate our concerns and constraints will be a test of this engagement,” a senior army officer engaged in preparations for the visit remarked.
Senior officials say they will try to carefully use their leverages, which are largely Afghanistan related, to make the most of the dialogue.