WASHINGTON - As US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday told Pakistan it had the potential to become a future economic tiger, Pakistan’s top diplomat Sartaj Aziz said that Islamabad wanted to turn a “transactional relationship” into a deeper partnership in which the United States “will not look at Pakistan from the two specific lenses of Afghanistan and terrorism.”
Welcoming the Pakistani delegation to the resumed dialogue – which has been billed as opportunity for a new chapter in bilateral relations – Kerry held out US commitment to a long-term relationship. He said US wants to strengthen strategic partnership with Pakistan.
Aziz, who is PM Nawaz Sharif’s national security adviser, candidly said, “I am sure, most of you will agree that historically Pakistan’s security concerns were not taken into account when the US decided to withdraw from Afghanistan in the early 1990s after the defeat of the soviet forces with Pakistan’s active support, or when it invaded Afghanistan after 9/11.” He urged the US to avert a repeat of the same scenario when the US troops pull out this time round.
“Similarly there is a strong perception in Pakistan that while a lot of pressure is exerted on Pakistan on issues of concerns to India, our legitimate concerns are not conveyed to India with the same intensity,” Sartaj Aziz said while sitting beside Kerry. “There is in fact need for a careful attention to the long-term effects of US policies on Pakistan’s security,” he added.
The Adviser however said, “The overwhelming majority of the people in Pakistan support the normalisation of our relations with India and believe that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute would result in achieving this goal.” PM Sharif’s “bold vision of normalising relations with India is being pursued with full commitment”, he added.
Aziz said “the most important pre-requisite for strategic partnership, in my view, is mutual trust at all levels and among all key institutions. Once this trust is restored, then any unexpected incidents or accidents or disagreements over a policy or a tactic, would not be able to derail the relationship, as happened in 2011 and 2012.”
On Afghanistan, Aziz said in pursuing the goal of a “responsible end to the long war... we have to ensure... that past mistakes are not repeated”. Although the war may be winding down, just as in the past, Pakistan will have to face the brunt of any instability in Afghanistan after 2014, he said.
“The people of Pakistan have continued to sacrifice in this war against extremist elements and despite its heavy toll on our people, Pakistan has supported the international community... We support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and at the same time.”
The US and Pakistani officials were meeting for the first time since October 2010 for their strategic dialogue. The process was undertaken to build trust but it quickly broke down due to a series of crises, including Pakistani rage over the US clandestine raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The Pakistani team, led by Aziz, includes Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Chief of General Staff Lt-Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmad and Pakistani Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani. The American side, led by Kerry, includes Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan James Dobbins and US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson.
Kerry, who as a senator spearheaded a multibillion-dollar support package for the country, said US wants “stronger ties with the people of Pakistan – I emphasise, with the people of Pakistan”. He praised Pakistan’s economic reforms. The US “has no doubt” that PM Sharif’s policies will put Pakistan on a path of prosperity and “we fully support his goal of making Pakistan’s marketplace a tiger economy”, he said.
Pakistan has trudged forward at a growth rate of around three percent over the past five years, short of the levels seen as needed for the youthful country to tackle widespread poverty. The growth is well below the growth clocked by East Asia’s “tiger” economies or neighbour and historic rival India.
Kerry warned that Pakistan’s women and minorities needed to be part of its future. “We believe very strongly that Pakistan is stronger for the diversity and dynamism of its people and is strongest when every man and woman in Pakistan, regardless of religion or sect or gender, participates in full in society.“