Sartaj Aziz arrives in Washington as Pakistan, US look to strengthen strategic ties

WASHINGTON, Jan 26 (APP): National Security and Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz has arrived in Washington to lead Pakistan-U.S. StrategicDialogue with Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday, as the two countries look to finalize a blueprint aimed at bolstering future relationship. The top-level Pakistani delegation includes Minister for Defense, Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif and senior officials. The American interlocutors will include senior level representatives from the Department of Energy, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, USAID, US Trade Representativeand from the Treasury. The officials will work to “put together a blueprint of where we can take this relationship over the course of the next six months to a year,” a State Department official said ahead of the revived ministerial dialogue that will focus on wide-ranging economic, energy and security areas.
Meanwhile, a report in the American media saw the dialogue as offering an opportunity for the United States and Pakistan to start a new chapter in their relationship, affected by years of Afghan war controversies.
The Voice of America noted that the war in Afghanistan strained thebilateral relationship. But now the U.S. is drawing down its troops fromAfghanistan, and Secretary of State John Kerry says it’s time to resume a strategic dialogue. The broadcast service also quoted a statement of John Kerryin which he said the U.S. is committed to a long-term relationship with Pakistan.
The U.S. State Department officials noted on Friday that Pakistan and the United States have greatly improved their relationship since 2011.
“I think the relationship has become quite good between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. The Prime Minister had an excellent visit (in October 2013) here, a very comprehensive set of meetings,” a senior State Department official said.
Similarly, the official noted, Secretary Kerry had a good visit to Pakistan and established a good relationship with the National Security Advisor Aziz.
“So at a personal level I think people are comfortable with each other, they have gotten to know each other, and the dialogue can be very candid, a first-name basis sort of thing.”
Afghanistan will also be a major topic of discussion, amid uncertainty over the fate of bilateral security agreement between Washington and Kabul and the future of that country. But the U.S. officials say Washington-Islamabad relations are independent of current Afghan situation.
“We have a direct bilateral economic relationship with Pakistan. We’re Pakistan’s largest market.  We have an interest in Pakistan’s economicdevelopment. And we have an interest in Pakistan’s domestic security.  Pakistan is a large populous, nuclear-armed nation, and it is important that its constitutional order and democratic processes continue to be strengthened.  We have made a major investment in that. The Kerry-Lugar-Bermanmoney is not tied to Afghanistan,” a senior official said.
The Strategic Dialogue covers five areas of cooperation and detailed discussions take place at the level of working groups on energy, defense, strategic stability, economic and finance, and law enforcement and counterterrorism.
The last Strategic Dialogue at the ministerial level was held in 2010. The Pakistani side is likely to call for expansion in trade ties, particularly greater access for Pakistani products in the U.S. market in line with Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif’s policy. (Courtesy: APP)