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US-Pakistan dialogue: Creating new avenues

As US prepares to exit Afghanistan, the resumption of the strategic dialogue between Pakistan and US signals as an attempt by PM Nawaz Sharif to recast the US-Pakistan ties. Pakistan also wants to move away from the image of a ‘terrorist hub’ and seriously thinking to focus on economic development for which it needs US assistance. Earlier, Pakistan needed US for terrorism funding, once that dried up now there is another attempt to showcase prospects of trade and energy plums from Central Asia for which Pakistan can be a corridor. With the recent developments in Pakistan, it has become clear that PM Nawaz Sharif has a special idea to give Pakistan a much needed U-turn, from terrorism to trade. But that plan comes with opportunities as well as risks.


The resumption of the strategic dialogue comes after a rocky three years of US-Pakistan relations, which were constantly troubled due to some issues or the other, the lowest ebb coming after an attack on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan’s Abbotabad town 3 years ago.

The aim of these talks is to try and draw up a blueprint to shape the bilateral relationship over the next six months to a year. They will focus on five key areas of cooperation in energy, defence, strategic stability, economic and financial development and law enforcement and counter-terrorism.

However, while their dialogue delivers the blueprint for the relationship henceforth, it is important to understand why Pakistan wants a strategic dialogue with the US. One obvious reason is that Pakistan has always wanted to be treated by the US the same way the US treats India.

Recall that back in 2005, after the then US President George Bush wrapped up a nuclear deal with India, the very next day, on his visit to Pakistan, Pakistan asked him for a nuclear deal as well (which he politely declined).

Now, India shares a strategic dialogue with US, which is one of the reasons why Pakistan also wants to maintain parity.

More importantly however, Pakistan now wants to move away from the image it has maintained for sometime-the image of a ‘terrorist hub’.

It no longer wants to associate itself with this image because it realizes that sponsoring terrorism is harming itself more than the harm they intent to inflict on others.

This is why in 2013, Pakistan suffered more number of attacks than any of the current global hotspots, including Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

While attempting to de-hyphenate itself from the traditional tag of being a safe haven for terrorism and from where state sponsored terrorism is rampant, PM Nawaz Sharif is fully employing his business background to focus on economic development.

He rightly realizes that the attached tags are ruining the future of Pakistan and taking it in to another direction than what was imagined.

Therefore, if Pakistan needs to be recognized as a favorable country to do business with, it must push the agenda of economic development which will refurbish its image domestically, regionally and globally.

Interestingly, Pakistan needs US money anyway. Earlier, the US money was siphoned off in the name of fighting terrorism, even with the new agenda of economic development Pakistan requires US monetary aid. This is where the need for continued strategic partnership with the US comes in.

Pakistan smartly realizes that once US withdraws from Afghanistan, it would not continue giving Pakistan the same amount of money that it has been giving it to carry on its logistic and operational activities in the region.

Pakistan desperately needs monetary aid from the US to carry forth its activities. Thus, now, by putting the idea of economic development at the table, they will be able to continue to attract money from the US, without losing out even if the US withdraws from the region.

Clearly, PM Nawaz Sharif has a master plan. He is systematically moving in a direction, consolidating his efforts to achieve a situation wherein his government emerges successful and clean off the negative past.

He is avidly undertaking trips to foreign countries to attract as much trade and investment as he can. He has also initiated the discussion for cross-border trade with India. Coming from a business background, he has indeed employed a heavy bargain on the aspect of business.

He has not only brought a thinking man as the Army chief, he has also smartly retained the foreign ministry portfolio with himself and appointed a national security advisor.

The idea seems to be that focusing on economic development will ensure a positive reaction from the people of Pakistan and also considerably limit the Pakistan Army’s interference in political matters.

Until now, the Army was actively engaged with the working of the civilian leadership because it was a major tool for the country’s foreign and economic policy.

With the new agenda, this will not be the case as the military will not have much role in economically focused matters like infrastructure development and energy security.

The world, including the US, has been cautiously optimistic about the current leadership in Pakistan as well.

The US, too, is positively hopeful in its engagements with Pakistan and wants to ensure its continued presence as Pakistan’s largest market as Pakistan opens up its economic frontiers.

Positive contribution to Pakistan’s development could avert some anti-US sentiments in the country.

It is for time to tell whether Nawaz Sharif’s plan sees the light of day or not. However, there are risks involved with the plan.

If the plan does not work out, Pakistan could resort to its old devious means and take everyone down with them, because they do not take defeat too well. This could spell out danger for the region and most importantly for Afghanistan which is the upcoming battle ground.