Monday, March 29, 2010 – Pakistan-US Strategic Dialogue in Washington has made some breakthrough and common grounds arrived at to make the partnership long term and much broader than just providing aid. It is, however, too early to grasp the fuller scope and implications of the understanding reached between the two countries but indications are that they have moved closer, reducing the trust deficit. It is, perhaps, for the first time that Pakistan side participated in the process of engagement with necessary preparations and homework and I would like to say that inclusion of the Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani added a strategic dimension to this dialogue.
Bilateral relations between Pakistan and the United States had witnessed an era of roller coaster, periodically bonding closer as well as distancing apart Washington and Islamabad and it is time this practice should come to an end. I feel there is a genuine thinking in Washington that Pakistan holds a strategic position in the region and that lessons of the past should not be dismissed lightly.
While fuller details would come to light about the agreements reached and subsequently debated hotly by analysts and commentators, I would like to say that the high profile visit of the Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani to Washington from 11th April, 2010 in the aftermath of the dialogue, to attend the nuclear security conference at the invitation of President Obama, should be planned after a thorough consideration to make it productive and meaningful. Though the visit of the Prime Minister is primarily related to nuclear summit, which is also an issue of immense relevance and significance for Pakistan because of the deliberate attempts being made by some Western circles to defame and malign the country citing unfounded fears of the country’s nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of extremists, I fervently hope that the Prime Minister and his entourage would utilize this opportunity to pick up the thread and build upon the progress achieved at the strategic dialogue. I may be a little late to stress for a lot of homework for the visit as I am sure the Ministries concerned might have already done the spade work, yet I would make some suggestions for consideration of the Prime Minister. Though the details of the Prime Minister’s engagements are not yet known, I am confident he will have a meeting with President Obama. Also meetings must be planned with Secretaries of State, Defence, Energy, Trade, Finance and key Congressional leaders including the authors of Kerry-Lugar Bill.
For these meetings, what is required is that Pakistan should present arguments on solid grounds with facts and figures and our plans for the consideration of the US leadership should be precise and compact which could impress the other side that Pakistan has a strong, genuine and legitimate case for urgent consideration.
The key issues at these meetings should be the rectification of power crisis and the compensation of losses suffered by Pakistan due to its lead role in the war on terror. The country is suffering from massive power outages causing public unrest and losses of billions of rupees to the industrial sector and the national exchequer. We need urgent and firm support of the United States to overcome these crises in the shortest possible time and for the long-term availability of inexpensive energy. The solution lies not only in the renovation and upgradation of Tarbela, Mangla and Jamshoro plants but also in the provision of nuclear power stations which can generate pollution-free cheap energy. The poor masses and industry cannot afford costly thermal energy any more while Pakistan has the necessary trained manpower to run the nuclear plants.
The issue was forcefully raised at the strategic dialogue by the Foreign Minister and when taken up by the Prime Minister with the US President, it would add urgency and a sympathetic consideration by all quarters at the Capitol Hills. The Obama Administration has already indicated that it is open to Islamabad’s plea for a civilian nuclear deal akin to the US-India agreement. Efforts should also be made to convince key Congressional committees.
The untiring and charming US Ambassador Anne Patterson had given the first indication of a possible policy shift in US in an interview to Pak-American Journal in Los Angeles in which she said the two sides were going to have “working level talks” on the subject of civilian nuclear cooperation during strategic dialogue. Earlier Pakistani Ambassador in Washington Hussain Haqqani had hinted that the two sides had had some initial discussions on the subject. Hussain Haqqani has developed good working relationship with Congressional leaders and senior officials and naturally he followed the case after it was persistently raised by President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani during their meetings with the US leaders and special envoyHolbrooke.
Ambassador Patterson and Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke have hinted that Washington would play its due role in raisinginstalled generating capacity and making up for the present shortfall. US companies will be persuaded to invest in the power sector in Pakistan.
The mood in Washington today can be well judged by the fact that the US has upgraded the Strategic Dialogue to ministerial level and Ambassador Patterson openly stated that the Pakistan-US ties are getting better and fairly significant changes are in the offing shortly. In such a positive environment the Prime Minister, I am confident, will assert in the larger interests of Pakistan and seek firm commitment from President Obama for supply of nuclear power plants not only from the United States but also from the nuclear suppliers group by encouraging them to lift the ban. Naturally, the US would raise the issue of nuclear safety as President Obama will be chairing the international conference on the issue. Though Iran and North Korean nuclear programmes will be under severe criticism yet Pakistan could also expect some pressures and we will have to be ready to strongly resist such moves. Our civilian nuclear plants are already under the supervision of IAEA and there will be no harm in agreeing to allow such supervision for other civilian nuclear energy plants.
I am told that the Indian Foreign Secretary during her visit to Washington had strongly opposed the idea of dealing with India and Pakistan equally when it comes to nuclear plant but she was snubbed.
If I may use the journalistic jargon, the visit of Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani to Washington should conclude with breaking news for the people of Pakistan.
The second most important issue which I would like the Prime Minister to discuss is the losses suffered by Pakistan in terms of infrastructure and economy due to its active participation in the war on terror. These losses are estimated at around $ 60 billion when damages to houses, properties of the terror hit areas and infrastructure are included in the assessment. In my view, the previous Government did not demand adequate compensation and it is time now that Pakistan must present its case with facts and figures along with the reports of international financial institutions which were tasked to assess the damages. That would strengthen our case with the US and the international community.
Though financial assistance has its own significance and relevance, yet I think it is much more important for Pakistan to get its security and strategic concerns addressed adequately by the United States. Washington acknowledges Kashmir as a dispute but unfortunately it is not yet ready to play the role of an honest broker to help it resolve peacefully. Similarly, as the United States and its Western allies would soon be winding up in Afghanistan, Pakistan must get a clearer picture of the post-withdrawal scenario and the role that it will and should play to safeguard its vital national interests.
I hope the Prime Minister would play his role to get these issues listened to with intent in Washington, yet here I may emphasize the role of overseas Pakistanis which is of critical importance. Instead of old clichés that they are ambassadors of Pakistan I would call them as the 5th Province of Pakistan. They should be persuaded to exercise their goodwill with the US Congressional leaders for the cause of Pakistan as is being done by the Indians. Their lobbying in Washington’s corridors of power would make the task for the diplomats easy.
Pakistanis are a vibrant community in America and they need to be encouraged to be involved more intimately in the implementation of the US policy towards Pakistan. The Pakistani Associations in America can set up a joint advisory group and become politically active particularly with the Senators and key Representatives. This was also stressed by Ambassador Anne Patterson in her interview so that the Congressional leaders have a true picture about Pakistan’s contributions to the war on terror, the resultant difficulties and its genuine requirements.
Also the overseas Pakistanis be given attractive packages to make investment as they have expertise in different fields. They can assist in making Pakistan commercially more attractive and help in terms of improvement in education, health and IT sectors.
At this point of time, when Obama Administration is in dire straits for various reasons, I am sure Pakistan’s case will be considered with sympathy and understood provided it is presented with proper care and on solid grounds.