Recently held sixth ministerial-level Pakistan-US Strategic Dialogue, reaffirms the significance of bilateral ties and further strengthening of their relationship. The talks were held in Washington with Pakistan’s delegation led by Sartaj Aziz, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, who met with John Kerry, US Secretary of State. Both sides pledged to work for an enhanced and long term relationship important for regional and international security.
Strategic dialogue process between the two states was initiated in 2010, facing a hiatus of three years when the bilateral relations were strained in 2011 but was subsequently resumed in 2014. The talks spread over six working groups representing areas of mutual interests such as energy cooperation; security, strategic stability and Non-proliferation; cooperation in economy and finance; Education; science and technology; law enforcement and counterterrorism. This sequence however is not hierarchal and represents no priority of one over the other. These varied areas of cooperation set aside the cliché that Pakistan-US talks are limited only to the security sector.
The agreed working areas have a lot to offer to Pakistan especially in spheres of economy and education. Pakistan and US have extensive cooperation in the field of Education, Science and Technology and the ‘Working Group on Education’ can contribute to strengthen Pakistan’s education system. The decision to take up additional 125 PhD scholars by US Educational Foundation would provide greater impetus to Higher Education in Pakistan.
Energy Cooperation is a new chapter in Pakistan-US relations with the focus on clean energy and promotion of private sector investments in hydroelectric, wind, biomass and solar energy. This partnership aims to add 3,000 megawatts by 2020 along with technical expertise by US Department of Energy to help Pakistan improve energy efficiency and add cheap power to the national grid. Cooperation in this sector can be more beneficial if US agrees on peaceful nuclear cooperation with Pakistan as it does with India.
Talking about areas of mutual concern, both Pakistan and US are on same page when it comes to counter extremism and terrorism. Pakistan’s resolve on counter terrorism and its successes in Operation Zarb-e-Azb is appreciated by the US while announcing $250 million for the return of IDP’s in FATA.
The need for strategic stability in South Asia has been recognized. Pakistan’s role for promoting regional cooperation was commended in terms of holding successful Heart of Asia Conference in 2015. Afghanistan issue holds priority for both Pakistan and US in the region. Pakistan supports the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process and in this regard, it has hosted the meeting of Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) to reach a negotiated settlement for Afghan Conflict.
However, the disagreement prevails between the two states in the area of nuclear proliferation. US asks for a limited nuclear arsenal while Pakistan reiterates its stance in the wake of prevailing security environment. Mr Aziz highlighted Pakistan’s commitments regarding non-proliferation but made it clear that Pakistan could not accept unilateral restrains on its nuclear weapons while India remains aloof of such controls. This shows the duplicity of US towards these nuclear armed neighbors and indifference to regional strategic stability.
The relations between Pakistan and US have been through phases of convergences and divergences, mostly dominated by the strategic interests of the former. Holding of strategic dialogue provides both the states with an opportunity to remove misunderstandings and to transform these divergences into convergences by dialogue. US realizes that cooperation with Pakistan is indispensable in resolving issue of Afghanistan and bringing regional stability. Moreover, there is a need to prevent this relationship from being dominated by security issues and a need to explore new areas of cooperation.
This dialogue can also be used as a way to highlight the issue of Kashmir that has been long neglected by the Western states. During these talks, Kashmir got some attention and Pakistan can avail this opportunity to highlight the continued Human Rights violations perpetrated by the India in Indian Held Kashmir.
— The writer is an intern at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.