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Article Alert: Sherry proposes new vision for Pak-US ties

by: Sherry Rehman

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has proposed new vision for the ties between Islamabad and Washington and for the purpose it has set out ten-point course of action. Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Ms Sherry Rehman in her speech at Harvard University on “Pakistan and the United States: the road to 2014 and beyond,” said that the envisaged regional policy would only bring stability and prosperity to the region if the US plays its part, and works through the endgame of a long war, without too many unintended consequences, this time. Harvard, Kennedy School is viewed as the highest forum where George Bush, General Dempsey, late Ms Benazir Bhutto and several heads of state/government had spoken. Ms Sherry spoke for one hour including Q&A and it was referred to as the “most important policy speech delivered on Pak-US relations this year.”

She said that both our countries were in two wars together next door. Both the United States and Pakistan won the first war, but we lost the peace. The jury is still out on this one. A review of strategic setbacks and what caused them should be front and centre of our “lessons learnt” menu as we attempt to stabilise the region together. Pakistan and the US should have learnt important lessons from the first war in Afghanistan: One is that terrorism must be unambiguously defeated everywhere, but the application of military force is never enough in a theatre such as Afghanistan. I try very hard to resist the graveyard of empires cliché, but fail clearly. Pakistan has certainly learned one lesson, that no one can broker a sustainable peace in Afghanistan except the Afghans themselves. Therefore, Pakistan fully supports an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation and peace. Today, it is our considered coordinated inter-agency policy that Afghans have to lead the peace process in Afghanistan. Pakistan will support all roadmaps for a negotiated settlement of this war. What we will not do is support any groups, or play any favourites. “Let me say unequivocally, the government and state of Pakistan do not see Afghanistan as our strategic backyard,” she added.

Ambassador Sherry who was candid in her views said that we hope that the important gains made by US Nato forces can be protected, especially in terms of fundamental freedoms for women and access to social services. We want to see Afghanistan as a united, independent and sovereign state. We urge all concerned to join the reconciliation process, because we recognise that Pakistan has vital stakes in a peaceful, self-ruled Afghanistan, just as we have the most to lose from a turbulent neighbour. We also recognize that the road ahead is full of challenges, but our goal is to be diligent in our search for clarity and convergence among our three nations, she said.

“We understand US compulsions relating to Afghanistan. We want to help the US to manage a smooth and responsible transition in Afghanistan. To that end we would like the US to lay down the foundations for Afghanistan’s future political and economic stability. This is in Pakistan’s self interest. Peace in my Pakistan is difficult without peace in Afghanistan,” she reminded.

Ms Sherry Rehman said that the US hopes to conclude the war in Afghanistan, the longest in its history next year. That date looms large over policy and public debates today. There is deep concern over whether the US will be able to leave a reasonably stable Afghanistan behind or if the blood and treasure invested over the course of a decade will have yielded no tangible results. If the United States approaches the timelines to 2014 with concern, you will forgive me for saying that the mood in Pakistan is informed by a calendar of imminent anxieties.

I am sorry that memory remains such a tangible ghost at the bilateral table, she said.

The ambassador made it clear that Pakistan cannot afford a repeat of the 1990s, when the Soviet withdrawal led to the same by the US and Afghanistan sank into a devastating internecine conflict. We hope the international community can see a clear learning curve and rethink the approach to the region. We certainly have. Afghanistan is entitled to the same consideration and respect from us as we expect for ourselves. It is our neighbour, not our sphere of influence. We do not wish to impose a government in Afghanistan or work with only select partners. Rather, we will do our best to work with whichever government the Afghans choose for themselves, and convince it of our respect and friendship. Here again I must underscore we have the most to gain from a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, she said.

Pakistan’s envoy told the vibrant gathering that despite our difficult economic circumstances, we have invested $300 million in Afghanistan’s infrastructure as a sign of our goodwill. We have revised and upgraded the nearly fifty-year old transit trade agreement with Afghanistan to bring it more in line with contemporary realities. Afghan trucks will now be able to travel across Pakistan all the way to the Pakistan-India border.

Our regional pivot focuses on bringing down an architecture of trade barriers both with India and Pakistan, and we are on course, despite flare-ups on the Line of Control in Kashmir, to forge with building investments in peace, trade, economic integration and opportunities for our huge youth cohort, she reminded.

The ambassador said that Pakistan is also moving fast to connect with countries in Central Asia. We are working on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan, and hopefully, India, gas pipeline. We hope to see progress on the CASA initiative also.

Above all, Pakistan is now a democracy. For the first time in our history, an elected government is set to complete its full constitutional term. A caretaker government will soon be in place.

The ambassador proposed ten point course of action for preventing repeat of bitter history and suggest as follow:

1) Trust each other. Share notes; build communication through formal channels, not the media.

2) Strategic sympathy: Try to understand each other’s challenges. Don’t interpret differences of approach as duplicity. Don’t confuse capacity issues as lack of will. Do not exacerbate each other’s sense of insecurity or anxiety. When we have our schoolgirls like Malala shot by TTP terrorists massing in Kunar, on the Afghan side of the border, we do not leap to the public conclusion that this was deliberate or planned, notwithstanding the conspiracy theorists or the fog of war. We expect the same consideration.

3) To recognize that the problems in Afghanistan are multidimensional and require the same complex solutions. Pakistan has been making this point since the first year of US involvement in Afghanistan. Force is of course an important element. It is, however, only one of many, and on many issues, not even the major necessity.

There has to be an equal emphasis on a political solution. The more people and groups the US can bring under the reconciliation tent, the better. No one who is disposed to talk should find the road too difficult or the door too tightly shut. We are therefore glad to see such emphasis from the US on the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. I believe the phrase “Better late than never” applies here.

4) Lets do a reality check on the situation in Afghanistan. Do not go crashing out in an exit that runs the risk of sinking Afghanistan into instability and economic un-sustainability. More than a military victory, what the US must now try to ensure is to leave an economic infrastructure behind that allows the Afghans to build on after US departure. After fighting the war, the US must win the peace. We will work with you on it, and I believe we are.

5) There needs to be a robust anti-narcotics element to US/ISAF activities in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, a great deal of time has already been lost. This seemingly ancillary issue can threaten many of the gains made over the past decade. According to a United Nations report published last November, the acreage devoted to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 18% from 2011 to 2012. This should be a cause for concern to all of us. An immediate result of such increase is that the Afghan insurgents will have more funds available to continue their opposition to the US and the government in Kabul, and become intransigent in their demands. A longer term casualty will be Afghanistan’s post-2014 stability.

6) Know the limits of our reach and capacity in Afghanistan. Both sides should understand this. Do not expect us to deliver stability in an arena where 40 countries and billions of dollars could not. We are not the coalition of the unwilling. Know that we spend 5 billion dollars a year on defence, while the US spends two a week just in Afghanistan. Pakistan has lost 78 billion dollars to just the war on terror. The glass must be seen as half full, not half empty. Demonising a partner doesn’t help.

7) Stabilise and moderate the US footprint in Pakistan. Enough said.

8) Work with the societies and people of our two great nations. Expand the opportunities for travel, investment, education.

9) Make trade the highway to our new future.

10) Do not just see us a function of Afghanistan. Let’s build on a common future together.