WASHINGTON – While advocating a sustainable Islamabad-Washington relationship, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman has called for responsibly bringing the decade-old Afghan war to a close.
With the US planning to exit from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Sherry called for a reality check and the need for a decision based on the ground realities.
"Do not go crashing out in an exit that run the risk of sinking Afghanistan into instability and economic un-sustainability," she said adding, "More than a military victory, what the US must now try to ensure is to leave an economic infrastructure behind that allows the Afghans to build on after US departure. After fighting the war, the US must win the peace."
She said, "Pakistan will support all roadmaps for a negotiated settlement of the war. What we’ll not do is support any groups, or play any favourites. Let me say unequivocally, the government and state of Pakistan do not see Afghanistan as our strategic backyard. "We want to see Afghanistan as a united, independent and sovereign state. We urge all concerned to join the reconciliation process, because we recognise that Pakistan has vital stakes in a peaceful, self-ruled Afghanistan, just as we have the most to lose from a turbulent neighbour."
Sherry's wide-ranging speech at the prestigious forum covered Pakistan-US relations beyond 2014 US drawdown in Afghanistan, Islamabad’s regional pivot, future of Afghanistan, women’s empowerment and Pakistan’s democratic march.
She especially reminded the audience of the words former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to the US Congress in 2009, “The people we are fighting today, we funded twenty years ago. We then left Pakistan, we said okay, fine you deal with the stingers and you deal with the mines along the border, and by way, we don’t want to be dealing with you, and in fact, we are sanctioning you.”
"You can all understand just how crucial it is that the principal actors in this fight – the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan - get it right this time round,” Ambassador Sherry said adding Islamabad cannot afford a repeat of the 1990s, when the Soviet withdrawal led to the same by the US and Afghanistan sank into a devastating internecine conflict.
"We hope the international community can see a clear learning curve and rethink the approach to the region. Afghanistan is entitled to the same consideration and respect from us as we expect for ourselves. It is our neighbour, not our sphere of influence. We do not wish to impose a government in Afghanistan or work with only select partners. Rather, we’ll do our best to work with whichever government the Afghans choose for themselves, and convince it of our respect and friendship."
On US-Pakistan relations, Sherry said, "If we are to move forward we have to understand each other.” She listed a series of things the countries could do to avoid a repeat of history of fluctuations in Pakistan-US ties, most notably the estrangement that followed the 1989 US abandonment at the end of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Sherry, who assumed her ambassadorial assignment in Washington at a troubled time for bilateral relations over a year ago, said the two countries have come a long way since then, with the revival of their dialogue at the institutional level on several strategic subjects of common interest.
“The level of confidence is returning between Islamabad and Washington, after the unprecedented ebb witnessed in bilateral ties in the year 2011.”
Still, as they approach the 2014, the two countries, she stressed, should build trust and communication through formal channels, not the media since coercive diplomacy through the media is not the way forward.
Secondly, the two countries should strive to understand each other’s challenges and show strategic sympathy. Differences of approach should not be interpreted as duplicity and capacity issues should not be confused with any perceived lack of will, she said.
Sherry offered some reality checks on Afghanistan, saying the multi-dimensional problems in that country require comprehensive solutions with the recognition that force alone cannot resolve problems.
“There has to be an equal emphasis on a political solution,” she noted, while referring to the importance of bringing more Afghan groups into the reconciliation fold, including the human rights and women’s rights advocates. “We are glad to see emphasis on talking.”
Ambassador Rehman also said that Islamabad wants to bring down trade barriers with India, including extending the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to it. "Our regional pivot focuses on bringing down an architecture of trade barriers both with India and Pakistan, and we are on course, despite flare-ups on the Line of Control in Kashmir, to forge with building investments in peace, trade, economic integration and opportunities for our huge youth cohort," she said, adding a dialogue with India at multiple levels was also underway.
"Pakistan's cabinet is considering extending Most Favoured Nation status to India while pressing India to dismantle its tariff and para-tariff barriers to Pakistani exports.
The two countries recently agreed on an expanded visa agreement and some experts see bilateral trade touching $ 7-8 billion within a couple of years," Sherry said.