Foreign Minister hopes to 'reset' US ties with PM's visit

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maiden trip to the White House later this month will help transform the US policy of “coercion” towards Pakistan into one of “cooperation”.

“Both countries are gradually moving towards a mutually beneficial, constructive and cooperative approach in bilateral relations,” said the foreign minister while speaking at a conference on ‘Pak-US Relations: The Way Forward’ organised by the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI).

The summit between PM Imran and US President Donald Trump is viewed with great interest as it is taking place against the backdrop of years of acrimonious relationship between the two ostensible allies.

The prime minister is expected to be accompanied by army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI chief Lt General Faiz Hamid.

Trump’s invitation to Imran is apparently an acknowledgment of Pakistan’s ‘positive role’ in facilitating the Afghan peace talks.

During his keynote address, the foreign minister said that the prime minister’s visit to the US “offers the leadership of both countries new opportunities towards resetting the bilateral relationship and it will also enable Pakistan to build its narrative and counter Indian propaganda”.

“The US has appreciated Pakistan’s key role in facilitating the process of intra-Afghan and regional dialogue,” he added.

Other speakers delved into four key aspects of the Pak-US relations that encompassed diplomatic, security and economic dimensions of bilateral ties.

Former foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry analysed the diplomatic aspect, former defence secretary Lt Gen (retd) Asif Yasin Malik reviewed the security relations while JS Global Capital Ltd Chief Executive Officer Muhammad Kamran Nasir evaluated the economic dimension of the relations.

Former National Security Division secretary Ambassador (retd) Muhammad Sadiq, who chaired the session, deliberated on Pak-US cooperation for peace in Afghanistan and prospects of peace deal.

Aizaz stated that the US perspective towards Pakistan was shaped through the Afghanistan lens and increasingly from the Chinese lens. “Therefore, it is important for Pakistan to impress upon the US leadership that Islamabad’s relations with China are not poised against any other state,” said Aizaz. “Both countries must attempt to revive and sustain the bilateral dialogue process to deepen the relationship.”

Lt General (retd) Asif Yasin Malik urged to take guidance from history to shape Pakistan’s future policy towards the US.

“The foreign policy must advance economic interests as the main guarantor of national security. Military to military relations should not be the main driver of the bilateral relationship with the US,” he maintained.

Kamran Nasir stated that Pakistan must build an export-led economy but that would require major structural reforms. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he noted, represented investment in communication and energy sectors by China but a significant part of technical support was coming from the US companies like Caterpillar and General Electric.

“Islamabad can benefit from American technology in the agriculture sector for improving crop yields and significant export opportunities in the IT and telecom sectors,” he added.

Ambassador Sadiq cautioned against the prospects of peace in Afghanistan, saying the conflict in “Afghanistan has created a new elite that has no interest in peace in the country”.

He feared that even if all parties agreed to peace, its implementation would remain a big challenge particularly if a single ethnic group dominated others.

In his concluding remarks, Syed Muhammad Ali said, “Pakistan must pacify the US leadership that its relationship with China is not against the US. In contrast, Washington’s Indo-Pacific policy is both unrealistic towards India and dangerous for South Asian strategic stability and peace. The US policy towards South Asia deserves a timely review in order to ensure lasting peace, security and stability, which is in Washington’s interest.

Earlier, IPI Executive Director Prof Sajjad Bokhari said for a meaningful change in the complexion of bilateral ties, US needed to review its Indo-Pacific Strategy, address Pakistan’s security concerns, and stop seeing Pakistan-China relations, particularly, the CPEC as a challenge.

He underscored that both sides must recommit to the principles of mutual respect and finding common ground on issues of mutual interest.

Relations between Pakistan and the US have been turbulent since Trump took office in 2017, with the US leader frequently singling out Islamabad for failing to rein in extremists and being an unfaithful partner in the fight against militants.

The White House has repeatedly accused the Pakistani military establishment of helping fund and arm the Taliban, both for ideological reasons and to counter rising Indian influence in Afghanistan.

Pakistan denies the claims and says it has paid the price for its alliance with the US in the so-called “war on terror”, with thousands of its citizens killed in its long struggle with militancy.

Last year, Trump suspended $300 million in military aid to Islamabad, saying Pakistan has given Washington “nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools”.