The strategic dialogue between the US and Pakistan on March 24 can be tagged as one of the much-awaited events of this year. Albeit experts are busy analysing whether the upgraded dialogue would prove to be fruitful, yet both sides are touting this meet as an intensification of ties.
The dialogue is seen as a chance for the US to restore trust with Pakistan. It will be led by foreign ministers of both the sides and attended by military, finance, energy, agriculture, and other officials.
In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com, Moeed Yusuf, an expert on South Asian affairs, discusses the issues which would come up during the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue.
Moeed W Yusuf is the South Asia Adviser at the United States Institute of Peace and is responsible for managing the Institute’s Pakistan program.
Kamna: What do the US and Pakistan aim to achieve from the upcoming strategic dialogue?
Yusuf: The strategic dialogue, ironically enough, is a reflection of the realisation on both sides that their engagement to date has not been able to deliver satisfactorily. Especially for Pakistan, who has pushed for this dialogue, there was a growing sense that its concerns on the Afghanistan front were not addressed. Moreover, both the sides now see the end-game approaching and both have a serious interest in finding some common ground on managing Afghanistan. The dialogue will be an attempt to get this process started. Finally, Pakistan wants to expand the relationship (note the presence of Secretaries of Agriculture, IT etc) to ensure that the relationship moves beyond its current tactical focus.
However, there is nothing new that either side will be putting on the table. Therefore, let’s not expect that either will walk away with any tangible gains just yet.
Kamna: Keeping in mind that Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani will also participate in the dialogue, is it right to say that only security issues will dominate the dialogue?
Yusuf: This is inevitable, as the War on Terror remains the central issue for both the sides. But as I have indicated above, this is precisely what the Pakistanis want to move away from. And therefore, despite the predominance of the security dialogue, you will see emphasis on broadening the economic relationship.
Also critical to note is the fact that there has been tremendous preparation for this dialogue in Pakistan, and the civilians and security establishment have forged a consensus position before departing. Pakistanis believe that they are in a position of strength, given their potential role in Afghan reconciliation.
Kamna: Will Pakistan use this dialogue as an opportunity to gain civil nuclear cooperation with the US?
Yusuf: Gain is not the right word. They will surely bring this up in a big way and push the US to change its stance on this issue. What Pakistan ultimately wants is to get parity with India in terms of a quasi-formal recognition of its NWS (Nuclear Weapon State) status. This will then ease the way for international cooperation on civil nuclear energy between Pakistan and many other countries like France, Russia etc.
Kamna: How will the dialogue affect Pak-US relations?
Yusuf: Ideally, both the sides will walk away having agreed on how to come to a minimal common understanding on Afghanistan and promised long-term commitment to each other. The latter is critical; the US’ success in the region depends, in no small part, on its ability to convince Pakistan that it will not abandon it. Only then can it expect Pakistanis to make a determined effort to ensure convergence of interests.