Discusses post-flood assistance with USAID official
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Wednesday said Islamabad, since he took office in April earlier this year, has had “a consistent back and forth of engagement with the United States” and the itinerary of these engagements has been “far more comprehensive” than in the past.
Speaking in Washington at the Atlantic Council — a US-based international affairs think tank — the foreign minister said that “we know what great, great things we have managed to achieve together when Pakistan and the US have worked together and we know where we have faltered when we have been unable to cooperate or create that consensus”.
“What I am happy to report is that over the last seven to eight months that I have been the foreign minister of Pakistan, we have had a consistent back and forth of engagement with the US and at various levels,” Bilawal added.
“Our report card for the last six months of foreign policy with the US-Pakistan relations is that if in the last decade 90 percent of our conversations were focussed around counter-terrorism, the war on terror, now we are engaging far more diversely on a whole host of issues,” he continued.
Elaborating on the exchanges between Washington and Islamabad, Bilawal said that “we have had exchanges on climate, technology, health […] even potential cooperation in agriculture”.
“We certainly do still talk about terrorism in our bilateral engagements,” he explained, “but we have a far more comprehensive itinerary in which we are now engaging”.
Responding to questions, Bilawal said that “the story for Pakistan 10 to 20 years down the line is one of opportunity” as he urged “everyone to get it now while you still can when everyone doesn’t see that opportunity so you can maximise your benefit later”.
Speaking candidly, the FM admitted however that when he brought up the issue of investing in Pakistan’s future in conversations, “they are over it”.
“[They are] sick and tired, [say] sort out your own issues and then maybe we can think about it”, however, he said he had succeeded in convincing potential investors to say “they are willing to give us a shot to come and explore bilateral economic opportunities to send their business teams, to send their commerce teams, to find win-win solutions”.
“We are in the very early stages [but] if I can manage to watch this develop one or two stages forward, there is so much opportunity for us to unlock, given the chance.”
The minister also reflected on the devastating floods the country experienced during the monsoon season, saying “we experienced this year what can only be described as a climate catastrophe of biblical proportions”.
The “extraordinary” rain-induced floods, Bilawal said, were the worst the country has ever experienced, but he noted that “we didn’t experience it alone”.
“While we were flooded, China was experiencing the longest drought that they had ever seen,” he stressed.
“Before we were flooded, we were experiencing an extensive heat-wave and drought,” he added, “you had forest fires raging in California. You had floods, forest fires and landslides I believe in Europe […] and floods in Nigeria”.
This, Bilawal stressed placed a strain on humanitarian and developmental aid, which at the moment is primarily directed towards Ukraine as it experiences war.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in a meeting with Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development Samantha Power has discussed the long-term cooperation for rehabilitation and reconstruction of Pakistan’s flood-affected areas.
“Had a productive meeting with USAID Administrator. Thanked for her leadership in galvanizing support for flood relief,” he said in a tweet following the meeting.
The foreign minister appreciated the United Nations Secretary-General’s humanitarian assistance of $97 million.
Samantha Power in a tweet said she discussed with FM Bilawal how communities impacted by Pakistan’s recent floods were faring and the impact of U.S. assistance in the immediate aftermath.
She also mentioned that the discussion also focused on working together to build resilience in preparing for future crises.