The Washington visit: Challenges and opportunities

“No foreign policy - no matter how ingenious - has any chance of success if it is born in the minds of a few and carried in the hearts of none.”
–Henry A. Kissinger

This week Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has embarked upon his much-anticipated visit to Washington. A lot of expectations and reservations are already attached to this visit which is occurring against the backdrop of a rapidly worsening situation in Afghanistan, aggravating Pakistan-India ties, the pressing issues of terrorism and extremism as well as the recent spotlight on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
The White House, in one pre-visit statement has stated that the visit “will provide an opportunity to strengthen our (Pakistan and the United States’) cooperation on issues of mutual interest, including economic growth, trade and investment, clean energy, global health, climate change, nuclear security, counterterrorism, and regional stability.” Pakistan’s Foreign Office has also reiterated that Sharif will “brief the US leadership on Pakistan’s policies for the revival of the economy, the fight against terrorism and the regional situation. Discussions will also be held on bilateral cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, education, defense, counter-terrorism, health and climate change”.

PM Nawaz Sharif’s visit comes in the aftermath of disappointing appearances at the Ufa Summit as well as the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA); the addresses on both occasions have not left a note-worthy impact for the promotion of Pakistan’s long-term interests on the global stage. In Ufa, national observers opined that Pakistan both mishandled its case and debased its stature as a strong, nuclear state by acting ready to kneel before any and all Indian demands for a handshake opportunity with the Indian Premier, Narendra Modi. The UNGA speech by the PM was felt by many as a hollow media stunt, with little to no value and even less impact – be it positive or a negative. This lackluster performance by the Pakistani Premier at such high a level forum is a lost opportunity; this was the most powerful forum for conducive talks on the issues of terrorism, extremism, for highlighting and promoting Pakistan’s achievements and experiences in this context. It was also an effective forum to emphasize the role of foreign involvement and funding in sustaining terror groups, and presenting Pakistan’s knowledge and point of view in this context.

This new visit once again provides a platform to Pakistan to assert its viewpoints and agenda on the previously mentioned matters of national interest which were sidelined earlier at Ufa and the UNGA. At this point in time the region appears to be approaching chaos, and with the regressive security situation in Afghanistan, the stakes have risen for President Obama himself; his Presidential term comes to an end next year and despite campaign promises, he will likely remain unable to end the two wars he inherited from his predecessor, which will have a significant impact on his legacy. These are factors that should be considered when evaluating possible US reservations or offers during meetings with the Pakistani Prime Minister.

In the context of brokering peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s role in initiating the peace process and hosting the first round of talks in Murree, which even had representatives from China and the US in addition to the Taliban and Afghan officials, was appreciated globally. Since then however, Pakistan has not been able to effectively capitalize upon its positive leading role before the international community, particularly in this regard.

Recently there have been various unconfirmed media reports about a possible US-Pakistan nuclear deal; the possibility of such a deal has been met with silence or simply denied, and resulted in a media ‘hoopla’ which must clearly be addressed during this visit. Pakistan should not act defensively about its justified demands concerning national security and interests, but rather a proactive, robust diplomatic approach is needed in this sensitive matter - one which appropriately demonstrates the country’s national prestige.

Pakistan should also take this opportunity to forcefully present its case over the constant and increasing Indian belligerence on the Line of Control and the worsening human rights situation in Indian-held Kashmir - where most recently a man was killed and scores of protesters injured over a ‘beef’ ban; such unprovoked aggression and exclusionary policies by a state that lays claim to both democracy and secularism can have severe consequences for the region. The rising incidents of extremism in India, its increasing interference in neighboring and regional states can and will have long-term effects on the stability of the region.

Furthermore during his visit, Pakistan’s Prime Minister should make additional efforts to engage with the expatriate Pakistani community within the US, especially the business community on a broader level than is currently expected, and to use the visit as an opportunity to link potential American investment with local businesses.

Finally, when all is said and done, it should be remembered that the PM Nawaz Sharif is in the US representing Pakistan, and notwithstanding any past weaknesses and incompetence, it is vital that he presents a firm stance on behalf of Pakistan during this visit. The onus of responsibility now resides with Mr Sharif and his team, who have flown out to the US carrying with them the aspirations, expectations and hopes of the people of Pakistan.

With this in view, the following suggestions should be remembered during the visit:

1. National interests must be the only driving force behind Pakistan’s foreign policy. All our efforts, endeavors and ventures in the domain of foreign policy must be subject to this key criterion.

2. Better trade and investment opportunities should be at the forefront of the agenda along with a demand for access to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Nothing however, can come at the cost of biased, unbalanced and exclusive restrictions, particularly in the context of matters of national security.

3. Terrorism and extremism are major concerns both for Pakistan and the US. Indian involvement in fomenting terrorism in Pakistan must be exposed and evidence disseminated at all appropriate platforms.

4. Pakistan may offer its services to play a role (as it has been playing voluntarily) in the Afghan political peace process again, but the country should ask the US to demote the detractors of Afghanistan’s peace process present in Afghanistan, especially in the National Directorate of Security (NDS), for culmination of a long lasting peace process. Only peace and stability in Afghanistan will bring peace and stability in the region.

Sehar Kamran is a Pakistani politician. She was elected to the Senate of Pakistan as a candidate of Pakistan Peoples Party in 2012 Pakistani Senate election. Sehar Kamran has served as a senator from March 2012 to March 2018.

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