Nothing dramatic was expected to happen, nor did it happen; yet Pak-US relationship has got a fresh impetus—courtesy Nawaz-Obama summit. It has come out of a vicious cycle of blame game and attendant negativities. The continuing volatility in the security situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s battles with the terrorists, and its relations with India were broadly the three topics that dominated the discussions. Disruptive speculation triggered by American media about a nuclear deal with the US, in exchange for Pakistan limiting its nuclear weapons programme died its own death.
Pakistan and the US are old and indispensable allies, and this summit has led to renewal of this spirit. Unless something unusually abnormal happens, one could assume the Pak-US relation are, once again back on track. Both leaders have committed to further build on the ongoing Strategic Dialogue, and emphasized the need to maintain the positive momentum in promoting the relationship.
Though one is never sure about the mood at Capitol Hill; yet one could safely assume the smooth flow of aid which is already in the pipeline. Also many sticky issues pertaining to foreign military sales, like eight F-16 aeroplanes stand resolved. Kashmiri leadership has welcomed the joint statement emphasizing resolution of core issue of Kashmir. In a follow-up, US State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said, US wants to see Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism expand; stressed the need for dialogue between Pakistan and India to strengthen regional security saying, US will persuade India to re-engage with Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif has effectively raised the issue of Indian involvement in FATA, Balochistan and Karachi terrorism during his US visit.
In return for a commitment that Pakistan would double its education budget in three years, America has pledged a $70 million contribution towards the goal of educating adolescent girls in Pakistan. Both sides expressed their desire to expand the bilateral relationship in areas outside the traditional security realm, including: trade and investment; education, science and technology; clean, efficient and affordable energy; efforts to counter climate change; economic growth; regional integration; rule of law; parliamentary exchanges, people-to-people contacts and cultural ties; and support for democratic principles.
On another encouraging note, American side underscored the importance of Pakistan’s role in using its influence in support of peace, security, development and human rights around the world. Two sides indicated their intent to continue robust macroeconomic cooperation through the Economic and Finance Working Group of the Strategic Dialogue, and creating enabling conditions through programmes like reauthorization of the General System of Preferences (GSP) programme and US-Pakistan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) process.
American side has reaffirmed support for the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement, the Central Asia South Asia Project (CASA-1000), the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline project, and other measures to enhance regional economic connectivity and growth.
Having done miserably poor in the achievement of erstwhile Millennium Development Goals, Pakistan is yearning to take a good start for recently launched Sustainable Development Goals. In this context, summit emphasized the value of investing in higher and basic education. To further this end a Working Group for Education, Science and Technology has been re-instituted under the Strategic Dialogue. Two governments intend to double the joint funding for a new round of research grants.
Formation of a new Clean Energy Partnership, based on the initial work under the Strategic Dialogue is an important step forward, it could lead, in due course, towards a Pakistan specific Agreement 123. However, as of now energy partnership aims to facilitate private sector investment in Pakistan’s energy sector, including generation, transmission, and distribution. America has also expressed support for securing funding for the DiamerBhasha and Dasu dams.
Climate change is another area of common interest. As a country particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, Pakistan has suffered major floods, heat waves, and droughts in recent years. The US has offered continued support to Pakistan to build infrastructure and organizational capacity to counter natural disasters and provide relief to the affected populations.
Undue criticism of Pakistan in the context of Taliban is a buzz word for the Western media. However, the leaders dispassionately discussed the importance of continued cooperation against terrorists and violent extremist groups. President Obama affirmed Pakistan’s role as a key counter-terrorism partner and recognized the sacrifices that Pakistani civilians, military, and law enforcement personnel have made over the years as they confront terrorism and militant groups.
The United States commended Pakistan for hosting and facilitating the first public talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban; and underscored the necessity of coordinated management of the Pak-Afghan border and orderly return of Afghan refugees. There are two paths to peace in Afghanistan – a military victory over the insurgents or a negotiated peace and national reconciliation. Over the past 14 years, a military solution has been elusive. Pakistan believes that it is unlikely to be achieved in the future as well; thus, achieving peace through negotiations is the best option.
Ongoing unease in Pakistan-India bilateral relations is also a common concern. Nawaz Sharif expressed unease over violence along the Line of Control, both sides indicated their support for confidence-building measures and a sustained and resilient dialogue process between the two neighbours aimed at resolving all outstanding territorial and other disputes, including Kashmir. Clearly, there is a real and present threat to peace and security in South Asia. The international community can no longer pretend that it does not exist. It must play a role to stop the slide towards a dangerous Pakistan-India crisis by preventing India’s belligerent actions.
Pakistan has demonstrated its resolve in countering terrorism. It has been working together, with international community, to address common concerns. Pakistan is committed to take effective actions against UN-designated terrorist individuals and entities as per its international commitments and obligations under UNSC resolutions and the Financial Action Task Force. United States and Pakistan are working closely to counter emerging terrorist groups such as Da’esh in South Asia. Time and again Pakistan has stated that it will not to allow any Da’esh footprint in Pakistan, and to combat the extremist ideology that propels such groups.
Threat of nuclear terrorism is another important domain. The United States and Pakistan are committed to work together to bring the Nuclear Security Summit process to a meaningful conclusion. Pakistan has all along been constructively engaged with the Nuclear Security Summit process, the International Atomic Energy Agency and scores of other international forums. Pakistan has made strenuous efforts to improve its strategic trade controls and enhance its engagement with multilateral export control regimes; it is also an active participant in global efforts to prevent and combat proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. It seeks to be a member of the four strategic trade regimes on the basis of its track record.
During the last 2-3 years, Pakistan has witnessed several positive developments domestically, democracy has strengthened; terrorism is being combated; the economy has stabilized and is poised for rapid growth. Yet, it still faces external challenges: to pacify Afghanistan and normalize relations with India. Pakistan has made a strategic choice to eliminate all terrorist groups through a comprehensive strategy, involving forceful law enforcement actions and targeted military operations. Military operation, Zarb-e-Azb, launched in June 2014, the largest anywhere in the world, has produced remarkable results. The past year has seen the lowest number of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings since 2007. These indicators enabled the PM to play a comparatively firm hand. Pakistan-US Joint Statement is reflective of a higher degree of US sensitivity to Pakistani concerns, setting direction for the coming years. It also indicates a broad continuity in the US policy in South Asia.