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Forward Movement Goes on with India

Efforts go for normalization with the United States Contrary to some encouraging signs in relations with its arch-rival India, Pakistan’s current state of relationship with old ally and friend the United States continuously faces turbulence.

Pak-India ministerial talks in Islamabad in early September can easily be termed successful, forward-looking and rather an epoch-making. And it does not require deeper intellectual analyses and scholarly research to unearth change in policy, particularly of Pakistan towards India. Because Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Hina Rabbani Khar in her joint press briefing with her Indian counterpart S M Krishna at the Foreign Office, clearly stated without mincing words that Pakistan has changed its policy of 40 years viz-a-viz trade with India. The two foreign ministers echoed with a consensus that the two countries would no more allow history to keep them hostage. The nature of Pakistan’s relationship from immediate neighbour (India) to a distant old friend, i.e. the United States also remains in the same scenario. It is important to analyse Pakistan’s engagements with India and the United States in the month of September.

Indian Minister for External Affairs S. M. Krishna’s visit to Pakistan was a culmination of second round of resumed dialogue process between the two countries. Although Indian minister for external affairs visit to Pakistan was customary to `review’ the progress made in the second round, however the gestures aired and certain steps agreed in Pakistan have far-reaching implications. The two countries sticking to their respective positions on disputes notwithstanding, S. M. Krishna, however, tried to improve atmospherics in Pakistan. His visit to Minar-e-Pakistan is symbol of `recognition’ of Pakistan. Former prime minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee did leave such impressions back in 1999 when he was in Lahore.

The two countries signed much-delayed visa agreement in Islamabad. There is not much in the new visa agreement for the common people as well as opinion-makers like journalists, artists, academicians, etc. But still, visa issuance at arrival for aged person of 65 and above is a welcome step. Similarly, the issuance of multiple visas to the business community is a one step forward for enhancing economic and trade relations between the two countries.

 There were no steps announced for electricity and petroleum trade between the two countries. Similarly, they did not announce opening of more trade routes like Khokharapar-Monabao, Head Gunda Singh etc. It may be the result of step by step approach that the two countries are moving at a snail’s speed.
 The promotion of economic and trade relations got further boost with a two-day meeting of Pak-India commerce secretaries in Islamabad recently. And they signed three agreements related to custom harmonisation, redressal of grievances and mutual recognitions of standards. Various proposals for boosting bilateral cooperation still need materialisation. There were no steps announced for electricity and petroleum trade between the two countries. Similarly, they did not announce opening of more trade routes like Khokharapar-Monabao, Head Gunda Singh etc. It may be the result of step by step approach that the two countries are moving at a snail’s pace.

Contrary to some encouraging signs in relations with its arch-rival India, Pakistan’s current state of relationship with old ally and friend the United States continuously faces turbulence. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani’s utterances of relationship back on track, there exists mistrust between them. It is nave to think that the two countries will return back to the relationship that existed during the cold war era. There are still a lot of convergences between the two to move forward.

The outbreak of violent protests in the streets all across Pakistan against the sacrilegious film is another manifestation of public anger in Pakistan against the United States. Unfortunately, some of those protests turned violent and, sadly, resulted in loss of life. The two governments have been pleading that there is no justification for violence. Out of sheer mistrust about the United States, the people of Pakistan are not willing to go with the official position of the United States that the video at the core of this series of events which is offensive, disgusting, and reprehensible.

The meeting between Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Hillary Clinton in Washington on September 21was very important. The two sides seem recognising that they can achieve more when they work together on a focused agenda. They share the priority remains pursuing our joint counter-terrorism objectives to ensure the security of American and Pakistani citizens alike. They face a common threat from a common enemy, and they need to confront terrorism and extremism together instead of pointing fingers at each other. Pakistan’s parliament has called for expelling foreign fighters, if any on its soil, so that Pakistan’s territory can be fully under control of the Pakistani Government and cannot be used to launch attacks against other nations. Similarly, the `successful’ first meeting of the Safe Passage Working Group in Islamabad which brought together Afghan, Pakistani, and US representatives to advance the peace process in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government’s public call for insurgents to come forward and talk with the Afghan government was particularly important.

Conclusions

Bilateral relations between Pakistan and the United States definitely go far beyond the shared security concerns. There is a dire need of working together, particularly to create economic opportunity for Pakistanis. They need to shift economic relationship from aid to trade and investment. The United States need to help Pakistan attract more private sector investment. The two countries hope to finalise a bilateral investment treaty soon.

What is also very important within this architecture is the counter-terrorism cooperation that they can do together. The last few months, maybe the biggest negative externality of the dip in relations has been the counter-terrorism objectives of both the countries. They need to realise that terrorists of any type, breed, colour, anywhere, are a threat to Pakistan as much as they are a threat to anyone. And it is for that reason that Pakistan stands today at the vanguard, having made the most sacrifices in blood and treasure than any other country in the world, having lost 30,000 civilians, having lost 6,000 soldiers to this fight, having a huge economic cost. The United States and Pakistan today have a unique opportunity to be able to work together to ensure that there is no security vacuum left in Afghanistan. Pakistan and the United States have to ensure together that the Afghan people are able to decide for their own future and live as a sovereign, independent country which is a source of stability and peace in the region after a 30-long year bloodshed, violence and instability.

By: Shaukat Piracha

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