WASHINGTON: National Security and Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz saw Pakistan and the United States forging a broad-based partnership going forward as he also emphasized the need to address the issue over unilateral American drone strikes that the US carries out against suspected militants in the tribal areas.
He was speaking on “Pakistan-US Relations: the Way Forward” at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies on Tuesday afternoon. Aziz listed a range of convergences between the two countries on wide-ranging bilateral and regional issues.
There was also a commonality of views on the need to address extremism, terrorism and Afghanistan issues, added Aziz, who this week led Pakistan-US Strategic Dialogue with Secretary of State John Kerry at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department.
Minister for Defence, Water and Power Khawaja Muhamamd Asif, Islamabad’s Ambassador to the US Jalil Abbas Jilani and senior officials held discussions with the US side on cooperation under five working groups.
“We do have problems with drone strikes because we think they have become counterproductive, lead to collateral damage, and it creates more problems,” Aziz pointed out to the SAIS audience comprising Washington think tank experts, academia, US officials, and members of Pakistani-American community.”Despite some of the irritants, Pakistan and the United States are well on their way to a broad-based partnership on the basis of shared values, mutual interest and common perceptions,” he remarked.The top national security advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the fact that the bilateral relations are back on a positive trajectory after the 2011 setbacks reflects the inherent resilience of the relationship.
On the way forward, Sartaj Aziz singled out the revived Strategic Dialogue process as the main platform designed to provide a structured framework to move towards a broad- based, comprehensive and strategic partnership between the two countries.
Regarding specific issues for bilateral cooperation, Aziz said that US assistance in energy sector, especially on Diamer-Bhasha and Dasu Dams was a priority for the government.
He called for preferential market access for Pakistani exports to the US market and expressed confidence that there would be concrete forward movement on these areas in the days ahead.Aziz said cooperation in defence and security sectors would remain an important plank of the bilateral ties.In the regional context, Aziz said that cooperation and coordination in developments in Afghanistan would continue as a significant aspect of the relationship.Aziz also hoped that soon other areas of mutual interest like education, science and technology, and scientific research would also be added as areas of priority in the context of bilateral cooperation.
The advisor also spoke about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s policy to have peaceful relations with neighbours India and Afghanistan.
On the imperatives of peace and stability in Afghanistan, he called for adherence to a policy of “regional non-interference” under which no regional country should interfere in the Afghan internal affairs.He said if after this year’s US and NATO forces’ drawdown, proxies supported by external powers again start fighting; Afghanistan would not be able to have peace and stability.However, once the Afghans determine their future, the regional countries could help it with reconstruction and economic development, Aziz added.
He also illustrated some of the implications of instability in Afghanistan for Pakistan, which is fighting the Pakistani Taliban and has historically suffered the most from the Afghan unrest in the form of influx of refugees, drugs and weapons.
He warned against repeating of the past mistake, when Pakistan was left to deal with Afghan war wreckage after the world abandoned Afghanistan at the end of the Soviet occupation.Later, in a brief interaction with the media, Aziz said Islamabad will work with whatever new government emerges in New Delhi from this year’s Indian parliamentary elections.Washington, he said, wants to see improvement in Pakistan-India relations and can contribute towards that end by creating a level-playing field on issues.
When asked about Islamabad’s position in the event the BJP regaining power in the upcoming Indian polls, Aziz recalled that last time it was Prime Minister Vajpayee (of BJP) who visited Pakistan in 1999 for talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Pakistan will do business with whoever is voted to power by the Indian people, he explained.
About his delegation’s meeting with US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, the national security advisor said Pakistan discussed fast-tracking provision of equipment under US military assistance program.
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