Pak-US Strategic Dialogue- Washington DC, 29 February 2016 - Opening Statement by Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Adviser on Foreign Affairs
I wish to begin by expressing my deep appreciation to you Secretary Kerry - and your team - for convening this 6th Ministerial Review of Pak-US Strategic Dialogue Process. Your personal commitment to strengthening Pakistan-US relationship over the years, is widely acknowledged and respected in Pakistan.
Kerry Lugar Berman Act and revival of this Strategic Dialogue Framework are outstanding examples of your contribution. These have certainly helped to transform the Pak-US relations into a mutually beneficial partnership. I thank you, on behalf of the people and government of Pakistan, for your role in re-building and re-energizing this partnership.
I am confident today's session will provide the opportunity to take stock of our relations in the light of detailed presentations on each of the six working groups.
This session also affords the opportunity to review the broader challenges and regional developments that have a significant impact on our bilateral relationship.
When I came here in January 2014 for the Ministerial Review, I had put forth a few overarching principles, which in my opinion, underpin the foundation of our strategic relationship.
I had emphasized according primacy to the element of mutual trust at all levels and among all key institutions to build strategic convergence instead of remaining captive to isolated tactical differences. The trust factor, therefore, remains critical to our enduring partnership.
Secondly, I had underscored the need to look at Pakistan in its own right. Fostering a long-term partnership would necessitate exclusive focus on Pakistan’s inherent strengths and opportunities.
Thirdly, I had explained the imperative of appreciating and respecting Pakistan's legitimate security concerns in the region, as the US moves forward with its ‘pivot Asia policy’ in pursuit of its own national security objectives.
I would use the yardstick of these three elements in sharing my assessment of the significant changes that have occurred in Pakistan in the past 2 ½ years. In the interest of brevity, I would essentially be touching on four inter-related themes: Pakistan's sincere and consistent efforts for a peaceful neighborhood, consolidation of democracy, economic revival and countering terrorism and violent extremism.
Let me begin with the issue of regional dynamics. We are all aware of Pakistan's complex geo-political history. Instead of being viewed through lenses borrowed from East or West, Pakistan must be afforded its own strategic space. We believe we have earned this over a history of result-oriented relationship.
We all recognize the wide ranging and complex problems confronting Afghanistan. Regrettably there is tendency to blame Pakistan in a simplistic fashion for most of these challenges. We are blamed to be pursuing a duplicitous policy.
This narrative revives the unpleasant memories of the past when our relations had dipped to perhaps its lowest level in recent years. Nothing can be farther from truth than to hold Pakistan responsible for the Afghan imbroglio. Who would like to set one's neighbour on fire with the hope to save one's own backyard.
Pakistan has suffered the most due to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. Actions taken by Pakistan against terrorist groups of all shades and colors in North Waziristan have been unprecedented. At this critical juncture we have to avoid blame game, admit mistakes committed by all of us and closely cooperate and coordinate our respective policies.
I would, therefore, like to highlight some recent developments that demonstrate Pakistan's sincere commitment to transform its relationship with Afghanistan. This is a vital area of strategic convergence between Pakistan and the US.
Today, there is growing consensus that an Afghan led and Afghan owned peace and reconciliation process is the best way to achieve lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.
After the intense deliberations among the relevant stakeholders, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group consisting of Pakistan, US, China and Afghanistan has unanimously agreed on a road map to take the reconciliation process forward. It has elements that would address US and Afghan concerns related to groups involved in violence against the US troops and against Afghanistan besides advancing the reconciliation process.
In coming days and weeks, all members of the Quadrilateral process will intensify their efforts towards achieving a broader regional consensus in support of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. It is our expectation that countries in the region, traditionally opposed to the reconciliation process, will shun their objections and support the efforts of the QCG to help the Afghan government bring peace and stability to their country. With so much capital expended on this process, we cannot afford another setback.
As an important part of our policy of peaceful neighbourhood, we have reached out to India. We believe that the resolution of all outstanding issues - including the Kashmir dispute - is possible through resumption of full-scale and uninterrupted dialogue with India. We had also proposed a mechanism to address our respective concerns on terrorism.
The Indian participation in the Heart of Asia Conference in Islamabad last December and announcement to start the Comprehensive Dialogue are positive developments that augur well for peace and stability in South Asia. Prime Minister Modi's visit to Islamabad was welcomed by most in Pakistan. Here, I would like to express our gratitude to you and President Obama for your consistent support to the revival of Pakistan-India Dialogue.
It is unfortunate that the agreement on resuming the dialogue process was disrupted by the attack on Pathankot Airbase on 2 January. Pakistan has taken some important steps in the aftermath of the Pathankot incident. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the Indian Prime Minister immediately after the attack and assured of Pakistan’s support in the investigation. National Security Advisers are maintaining frequent contacts. Case has been registered and the Special Investigation Team is likely to visit India in the next few days. We therefore hope that the Foreign Secretary level talks will be scheduled very soon.
Coming to the second element of our strategic convergence, I am sure, you will share our satisfaction that democratic processes and institutions are developing stronger roots in Pakistan and respect for the rule of law is grooming. Today's democratic Pakistan is strengthened by an independent judiciary, vibrant media and a diverse civil society.
Thirdly, I am happy to report that Pakistan’s economy is showing clear signs of recovery and growth. Pakistan’s economic recovery has been widely and repeatedly appreciated by the international rating agencies. Improved economic indicators; rising investment flows and a resurgent stock market led the World Bank President to state that, “There is much the world can learn from Pakistan”.
In August 2015, Forbes magazine recognized Pakistan’s potential as a global turnaround story and a country posed to be a strategic partner for the US.
We have no doubt that an economically strong and politically stable Pakistan can become a reliable partner of the US towards achieving the shared dream of a peaceful, prosperous and interconnected South Asia.
I am confident that the realization of mega projects such as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, TAPI and CASA 1000, will enhance regional connectivity on both North South and East West corridors. It would ensure trade facilitation geared to shared prosperity in the region.
We are confident that the US will continue to be an important partner in helping Pakistan achieve its national priorities for promoting peace, prosperity and greater economic integration in the region.
We have been discussing with you and your colleagues, the importance of enhanced market access and expanding bilateral trade. The overall volume of trade between our two countries has been virtually stagnant for the past 5 years. Infact it has gone down in real terms. As the security situation in Pakistan improves and the energy shortages are overcome, opportunities for trade will improve. I, therefore, believe now is the time when the US as a key ally and a close partner would also help by extending preferential access to Pakistani exports in the US market. This would go a long way in helping Pakistan turn around its economy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The world is witness to Pakistan’s huge sacrifices in fighting terrorism over the last decade. Our resolve to finish and win this fight remains unshakable as our military and law enforcement authorities are squarely addressing regional and global security concerns through simultaneous operations in FATA and elsewhere in the country.
Our strategy to eliminate the terrorist networks and defeat their extremist ideology is all-encompassing. We are focusing on three fronts that include both kinetic and non-kinetic actions.
First, through our military operation Zarb-e-Azb, we are determined to deny space to any terrorist groups to plan and launch violent activities from the Pakistani soil. After almost year and a half since its launch, Zarb-e-Azb is probably the most successful story in the history of CT operations. The most treacherous and unreachable areas in FATA especially in North Waziristan are now under the writ of the State. The terrorists have either been killed, captured or flushed out of their heavens.
Secondly, in line with priorities of the National Action Plan, we are taking all necessary measures to launch intelligence based operations and choke the funding sources of terrorist organizations. So far, more than one billion rupees worth of accounts have been frozen by the State Bank of Pakistan belonging to the terrorist and extremist organizations. Moreover, through concerted action by the relevant authorities, media visibility and public outreach of the proscribed organizations is gradually shrinking.
Thirdly, multiple actions are underway to defeat the extremist agenda or propaganda of the terrorist organizations through a counter-narrative strategy. We are mindful that the most important aspect of a successful counter strategy is to win the support and trust of local communities. In this context, we are engaging the religious scholars and community leaders to establish close contacts with young people in their communities, mosques and schools and discuss issues that provoke radical narratives and misunderstandings. Recently in a huge gathering of religious scholars in Islamabad where eminent leaders from across the Muslim world participated, a comprehensive fatwa was issued declaring ISIL a terrorist group. Similarly, this vast array of Muslim scholars pronounced that killing innocent civilians was not permissible in Islam.
As we march forward on the path of success in our CT operations, we have consistently appreciated the US support in enabling our capacity to fight terrorism. We see this contribution as a justifiable investment by the United States towards regional security and for its own security. To this end, we strongly believe that continued US participation in arrangements meant to enhance our Counterterrorism capacity not only help Pakistan but also advance the US interests.
We are grateful to you Secretary Kerry for your recent positive testimony on the Hill. We appreciate the public assessment of the US leadership in response to Congressional inquiries that Pakistan has used the F-16s effectively against the terrorists in the region. The prospective sale of F-16s will strengthen Pakistan’s capabilities to successfully continue these vital operations for our mutual benefit and stability in the region.
You would recall that during our dialogue, our two sides had also emphasized the need for building convergences and positive messaging. We have made concerted efforts in briefing our Parliament on areas of positive cooperation with the United States. This in turn helped in building a positive public view of the US in Pakistan.
Although we see some efforts by the Administration to keep the Congress informed, I believe more can be done to bring Congress fully in picture about the positive steps taken by Pakistan to further our mutual interests.
In my view, it is equally important to explore other specific areas of cooperation that could either be addressed within the ambit of existing working groups or consider newer mechanism, if deemed appropriate. In conclusion, I would like to propose the following elements that could be considered for charting out the way forward towards an enduring and multifaceted relationship between our two countries.
i. First, I see a lot of mutual benefit in taking forward the vision of our leadership to transform this relationship as people-centered. The six working groups should explore all avenues with regard to developing institutional linkages in different areas currently dealt in their respective purview.
ii. Second, expanding cooperation for enhancing bilateral trade and investment cannot be overemphasized. I would urge the two sides to sit together to work out a mutually acceptable framework to ensure enhanced market access for Pakistani products in the US.
iii. Third, creating opportunities for the talented Pakistani youth in acquiring both educational and entrepreneurial skills from the state of the art US institutes should also be our mutual priority.
iv. Fourth, as Pakistan is a water deficient country, I believe it would be extremely important to explore ways and means to address the water issues in the existing working group of Energy. Needless to point out that water scarcity in Pakistan could negatively impact the regional stability with global ramifications;
v. Fifth, our defence partnership has been a key pillar of our overall relationship. A structured and mutually agreed platform will help in making our defence cooperation serve our enduring common interests.
vi. Sixth, the US cooperation and support for more efficient border management between Afghanistan and Pakistan will help check illegal movement of terrorists criminals and smugglers;
vii. Seventh, after the rehabilitation stage, Pakistan will undertake major programme of reconstruction for TDPs. We hope our allies including the United States will supplement our efforts in this regard;
viii. Finally our engagement on non-proliferation and strategic stability will continue and Pakistan hopes to see greater US understanding of Pakistan’s security concerns and its desire to contribute actively as a mainstream nuclear power. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is looking forward to attending the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington next month.