WASHINGTON - The US and Pakistan have agreed on a roadmap to improve cooperation in areas such as security, non-proliferation, counterterrorism, energy and water, economic and trade as also defence consultation, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has said.
Wrapping up her four-day visit to Washington during which she met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior administration officials, Hina Khar said her talks were ‘detailed and frank’ during which she also raised the controversial issue of drone strikes on Pakistani tribal areas. The agreement on the roadmap was reached during the foreign minister’s meeting with Secretary Clinton as violent anti-American demonstrations were taking place across Pakistan.
“We have agreed on a roadmap of cooperation to advance relations in a sustainable way and under this five working groups will meet in the next three months - these groups will cover all aspects of Pakistan-US relations,” Hina told Pakistani journalists at the Pakistan embassy on Friday evening.
On drone attacks, she said while Pakistan’s position remains that they are illegal and counterproductive, there was now a better realisation in the US about their negative fallout in Pakistan.
“We had a frank, candid, honest discussion on all issues including a long discussion on drones,” the foreign minister said. “I think that is what we have always said, we maintain our position on drones that they are counterproductive, illegal, and unlawful and we continue to engage with the United States.”
The foreign minister felt “there is a deeper understanding in the US as to what is the negative fallout of drone strikes in Pakistan.” The foreign minister also expressed satisfaction over her meeting with US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon as good.
The minister said that during her meetings with senior American officials including US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, she advocated Pakistan’s case for preferential market access in view of the multifaceted challenges facing the country. “I found understanding on the issue and I hope for progress on it.”
At a meeting with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, the minister expressed Pakistan’s interest in support for Bhasha Dam, since the project would greatly help her country in overcoming energy shortage.
During her visit, the foreign minister also met with Congressional leaders including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, members of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence panels.
Hina Khar saw convergence of Pakistani and US interests on some major issues like the desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan. “It is important that the people of Pakistan and the United States should know that we have convergence of interests - the two sides have started building trust - both Pakistan and the United States want peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
The minister particularly noted Secretary Clinton’s announcement that the US will build Torkham-Peshawar road, saying it represents the first American step towards sharing the infrastructure load on account of NATO supplies traffic that passes through Pakistani territory to enter Afghanistan via border-crossings.
“By and large I remain satisfied with the visit – this is a good first step towards putting the bilateral relations back on track,” she remarked.
The minister praised Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington Sherry Rehman for her efforts and extensive diplomatic engagement with US officials and lawmakers towards improving the important bilateral relationship.
“In the last (several) difficult months, the US and Pakistani governments and Pakistan’s Parliament have shown that both view this relationship important - this reinforces the importance of the relationship.”
Concerning Afghan reconciliation, the minister said a trilateral mechanism is in place, which is working on the issue. In this respect, she referred to the recent safe passage working group meeting in Islamabad.
“The concept is there should be clarity in the reconciliation and what steps are needed to achieve the goal. Pakistan role is that of a facilitator – we have always said this should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-driven process.
“There should be no doubt that Pakistan will do whatever is within its capacity to be able to assist its Afghan brothers and sisters.”
Meanwhile, in a post-midnight vote, the US Senate rejected a proposal to suspend foreign aid to the governments of Pakistan, Egypt, and Libya on the ground that these countries were unreliable allies.
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky forced a vote on his amendment to cut US aid to Pakistan, Libya and Egypt, but the Senate overwhelmingly defeated the measure by a vote of 81-10.
The conservative senator led a one-man campaign to keep the Senate from voting on a must-pass bill to fund the federal government unless Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to allow a vote on Paul’s amendment to cut off foreign aid to the three countries.
Paul said he did not expect the measure to pass, but he wanted senators to have to go back home and explain to their constituents why they voted for aid to countries where there are violent anti-American protests.
The senator’s amendment would have made any resumption of aid contingent on Pakistan to release Shakil Afridi, the detained doctor who helped the CIA idntify the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The measure would have required Egypt and Libya to arrest the people responsible for the recent embassy and consulate attacks and turning them over to US authorities.
Some Republicans support a push to restrict foreign aid to countries with governments not deemed to be reliable allies. But many Republicans strongly objected to the Paul amendment as a ‘terrible idea’ that would damage US national security interests.
Most Democrats also rejected cuts to foreign aid, saying some of the countries that are undergoing political changes need US assistance now more than ever. Democratic Senator Max Baucus pleaded for Democrats and Republicans to work together on these sensitive foreign policy issues.
Baucus said, “It used to be not too many years ago that in foreign policy issues, because they are really non-partisan, we as a country worked together. We faced the country, the world, as one voice. So I strongly caution my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to not make this a partisan issue.”
The Senate’s rejection of the proposal to suspend aid comes as the US administration on Friday thanked Pakistan for protecting the US Embassy in Islamabad against protesters.