Opening statement of Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Advisor on National Security and Foreign Affairs at the plenary session of the Strategic Dialogue’s Ministerial Review

Opening statement of Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Advisor on National Security and Foreign Affairs at the plenary session of the Strategic Dialogue’s Ministerial Review

Secretary Kerry,

Members of the US delegation.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

May I begin by conveying my deep appreciation to you, Mr. Kerry, for convening this session of the strategic dialogue and for providing this opportunity to review all elements of US-Pakistan bilateral relations and regional concerns, and to further build the positive momentum for taking this relationship to a new and higher plane.

Your commitment and dedication for strengthening Pakistan-US relationship over the years is widely acknowledged in Pakistan.

As you and your colleagues are aware, this Strategic Dialogue at Ministerial level was initiated in 2010 and three sessions were held in quick succession in March, July and October 2010. But after 2011, a succession of events and irritants interrupted the process. The resumption of this Dialogue after a gap of three years symbolizes the inherent resilience and significance of the relationship and the commitment of both sides not to let transient irritants or disagreements overshadow the strategic relevance and enduring utility of this relationship for both countries.

We are fully conscious that this resumed ministerial review is taking place in the backdrop of significant developments within Pakistan, in US-Pakistan bilateral relations and in the region.

The historic democratic transition in Pakistan in May 2013 has opened new vistas of cooperation between our two countries. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s landmark visit to the US in October last year and the comprehensive Joint Statement issued thereafter, not only provided the vision and future direction for this relationship but also laid out a comprehensive framework for mutually beneficial collaboration based on common goals of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights.

The ongoing drawdown of ISAF forces in Afghanistan also creates new challenges and new opportunities for cooperation. In pursuing this goal of a “responsible end to the long war in Afghanistan”, we have to ensure that Afghanistan successfully transitions into a period of stability and that past mistakes are not repeated. Pakistan is therefore very keen to work together with the US and with other countries in the region to encourage an Afghan led reconciliation process for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

This, then ladies & gentlemen, is the overbearing and sobering background in which we are meeting to explore ways and means for transforming the post 2014 US-Pakistan transactional relationship into a “strategic partnership”.

Ever since your important visit to Pakistan in August 2013, I have been thinking as hard as I could to discover the real meaning of a strategic partnership. At what stage does a normal or “transactional” relationship become strategic? Are there one or more thresholds that must be crossed before a relationship can qualify as a strategic partnership? In this search I have carefully read the minutes of the first three sessions of the Strategic Dialogue that took place in 2010. Let me share with you, Secretary Kerry, my preliminary conclusions.

The most important pre-requisite for strategic partnership, in my view, is mutual trust at all levels and among all key institutions. Once this trust is restored, then any unexpected incidents or accidents or disagreements over a policy or a tactic, would not be able to derail the relationship, as happened in 2011 and 2012.

The second most important element from our perspective is the expectation that US will not look at Pakistan from the two specific lenses of Afghanistan or Terrorism. These are legitimate US concerns but these must be balanced by giving due importance to Pakistan’s own security concerns. There is in fact need for a careful attention to the long term effects of US policies on Pakistan’s security. I am sure, most of you will agree that historically, Pakistan’s security concerns were not taken into account, when the US decided to withdraw from Afghanistan in the early 1990s after the defeat of the soviet forces with Pakistan’s active support, or when it invaded Afghanistan after 9/11.

Similarly there is a strong perception in Pakistan that while a lot of pressure is exerted on Pakistan on issues of concerns to India, our legitimate concerns are not conveyed to India with the same intensity.

If these important pre-requisites are met, then the contribution of other elements of this important relationship such as expanded trade, higher level of private investment, long term partnership on some major projects, will become far more significant and mutually reinforcing.

An important manifestation of such a partnership will be closer contacts among people of the two countries because all enduring relationships have to be built on the feelings and attitudes of the people and their chosen representatives. That is why President Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed that our interactions should focus people centric initiatives and result oriented outcomes

This, Secretary Kerry, is the challenge for all of us, assembled in this room. We on our part are ready to take up this challenge, if you are.

I am confident that our exchanges during this ministerial review would enable us to comprehensively review the status of implementation of the decisions taken both at the summit meeting in October and the working group meetings already held and provide guidance and direction for the future.

In the past three months, the three working groups on energy, security, strategic stability and nuclear non-proliferation and the defence consultative group have met under the revived strategic dialogue process. The other two working groups will also be meeting shortly and we will be previewing them today.

Ladies & Gentlemen:

The Government is committed to effectively tackle the whole range of economic, security and energy related challenges that we confront in Pakistan today.

The Prime Minister and his team believe in good and accountable governance and are determined to turn around the economy, overcome the energy crises and seek peace and security in the region.

We have a lot to show for the sixth months that we have been in power. Just to name a few, improved economic indicators; better fiscal management; rising investment flows; a resurgent stock market; some respite in the energy crisis through the addition of 1700 MW of electricity in to the national grid; peace and friendship initiatives to our neighbours.

We are happy to see that there is a better appreciation both bilaterally and regionally of the steps that Pakistan has already taken in which the government wishes to move in future.

We are confident that US has been and will continue to be an important ally and partner in helping Pakistan achieve its national priorities and in advancing goals for promoting peace, prosperity and greater economic integration in the region.

Recognizing the seriousness of the energy crises that we face in Pakistan, we are hopeful that the US would respond urgently by extending the much needed help that we need in the energy sector especially in developing our hydal resources.

Our government also firmly believes in expanded trade opportunities as the key for economic resurgence and revival of Pakistan. In this regard, we are grateful for the help extended by the EU over the last decade and the recently accorded GSP+ status.

We do hope that the US as a key ally and a close partner would also help by extending preferential access to Pakistani exports to the US market. This would go a long way in helping Pakistan turn around its economy which is so very crucial in fighting terrorism and extremism on an enduring basis.

While taking stock of how far we have come should also endeavor to lay down a forward looking agenda for the next year.

Ladies and gentlemen

Pakistan has on its part paid a very heavy price in flesh and blood in fighting terrorism over the last decade and remains committed to bringing this fight to an end through all available means both internally as well as regionally.

Although the war in Afghanistan may be winding down, just as in the past, Pakistan will have to face the brunt of any instability that may engulf Afghanistan after 2014. The people of Pakistan have continued to sacrifice in this war against extremist elements and despite its heavy toll on our people, Pakistan has supported the international community because a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in the interest of the region and Pakistan. We support an Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process and at the same time hope that our security concerns are comprehensively addressed.

Pakistan is ready to help in every possible way in facilitating peace and stability in Afghanistan including through a comprehensive reconciliation process. We remain committed to facilitate a smooth and responsible US drawdown from Afghanistan and the continuing flow of the lines of communication.

The overwhelming majority of the people in Pakistan support the normalization of our relations with India and believe that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute would result in achieving this goal. The Prime Minister’s bold vision of normalizing relations with India is being pursued with full commitment.

Ladies and gentlemen

2013 was a significant year of our bilateral relationship. The progress we have made in the past six months should be a source of satisfaction for us.

2014 promises to be a more important year for the relationship as Pakistan takes steps to further consolidate democracy and overcome various internal challenges. We will look to the US for meaningful support. The strategic dialogue process will provide the most suitable mechanism for this cooperation.

Let me conclude by once again expressing our gratitude to you, Secretary Kerry, and your colleagues for hosting us today.

I am confident that today’s meetings and my other interactions during this visit will open new avenues of cooperation between our two countries.

Thank you.

January 27, 2014
Washington DC

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