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Sherry Rehman urges sustained Pakistan-US ties

21 February, 2013

WASHINGTON: Pakistan and the United States have seen a marked improvement in their ties recently after a difficult phase and the two countries must proceed with understanding and trust to foster a sustained and mutually beneficial relationship beyond 2014, Ambassador Sherry Rehman emphasized.

She was speaking at a forum at Harvard University's Institute of Politics where students and academics keenly followed her wide-ranging talk covering Pakistan-US relations beyond 2014 US drawdown in Afghanistan, Islamabad's regional pivot, future of Afghanistan, women's empowerment and Pakistan's democratic march.

"If we are to move forward we have to understand each other", Ambassador Rehman argued, as she listed a series of things the countries could do to avoid a repeat of history of fluctuations in Pakistan-US ties, most notably the estrangement that followed the 1989 US abandonment at the end of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Ms Rehman, who assumed her ambassadorial assignment in Washington at a troubled time for bilateral relations over a year ago, told the gathering at the prestigious institution that the two countries have come a long way since then. Islamabad and Washington have revived their dialogue at the institutional level on several strategic subjects of common interest.

The level of confidence is returning, between Islamabad and Washington, after the unprecedented ebb witnessed in bilateral ties in the year 2011.

Still, as they approach the 2014, the two countries, she stressed, should build trust and communication through formal channels, not the media since coercive diplomacy through the media is not the way forward.

Secondly, the two countries should strive to understand each other's challenges and show strategic sympathy. Differences of approach should not be interpreted as duplicity and capacity issues should not be confused with any perceived lack of will.

Ambassador Rehman offered some reality checks on Afghanistan, saying the multi-dimensional problems in that country require comprehensive solutions with the recognition that force alone cannot resolve problems.

"There has to be an equal emphasis on a political solution", she noted, while referring to the importance of bringing more Afghan groups into the reconciliation fold, including the human rights and women's rights advocates. "We are glad to see emphasis on talking".

The Pakistani envoy also underscored the need for a responsible transition out of the long Afghan conflict, saying the landlocked country of Afghanistan should not be left in haste to once again experience economic uncertainty and instability.

Among other priorities the US and international community must pursue, should robust anti-narcotics cooperation in the backdrop of a UN report that has noted upsurge in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan.

"Make trade the highway to our future", the ambassador said of the future emphasis in Pakistan-US ties, while citing the World Bank estimates that say Pakistan has lost $ 78 billion in foreign investment during the Afghan war tumult.

The ambassador stressed that for Pakistan history will not end with 2014 and called for long-term ties between Pakistan and the United States.

During the question-answer session, Ambassador Rehman reaffirmed Pakistan's support for peace and stability in Afghanistan and Islamabad's desire for cooperative ties in the region.

Earlier, Meghan O' Sullivan, Professor of the Practice of International Affairs, who moderated Ambassador Rehman's public address, appreciated the Pakistani diplomat's efforts towards building bilateral relations. She said Ambassador Rehman "embodies bridge between the two nations" and acknowledged her long time role as a voice for moderation and women's empowerment in Pakistan.


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