COMMENTARY
 
Following up on US-Pak Strategic Dialogue
Weekly Pulse
June 11-17 2010
The United States and Pakistan have begun the crucial work of delivering upon the pledges made in the Strategic Dialogue held in late March in Washington. The Dialogue had concluded with the establishment of a Policy Steering Group to intensify mutual cooperation in ten sectors, including economy and trade; energy; defense; security, strategic stability and non-proliferation; law enforcement and counter-terrorism; science and technology; education, agriculture; water, health; and communications and public diplomacy.

The follow-up to this dialogue is currently taking place in Islamabad, where officials concerned of the two countries are holding sectoral meetings to finalize specific projects to be implemented in each of the ten sectors. In the education sector, the two sides have already agreed to develop more educational institutes in Pakistan, and the Ministry of Education will soon submit its recommendations for the purpose.

On June 7, a US delegation led by Dr. David Ochmanek, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Development, and David Sedney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia began a four-day dialogue with Pakistani military counterparts to boost defense cooperation. An additional focus of this working group is on meeting shared security challenges through bilateral strategic-level defense planning.

Defense Cooperation

Building Pakistan’s capability to fight extremists is being identified as an important American counter-terrorism objective in the region, for which the US Department of Defense has already allocated roughly $400 million to train and equip the Frontier Corps. Moreover, under a proposed Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, the United States plans to allocate $3 billion over the next five years to train and equip Pakistan’s army and paramilitary forces for a counterinsurgency mission.

In fact, the same month the Strategic Dialogue concluded, the United States delivered 14 AH-1 Cobra gunship helicopters to Pakistan. Washington has also offered to supply Pakistan with an additional 14 F-16 C/D Block 52 fighter jets in addition to the 18 previous Block 52 aircraft whose delivery was to begin in June and completed by December 2010.

On June 9, another working group on science and technology, led by US Deputy Defense Secretary Kerry N. Johnes and Federal Secretary for Science and Technology K.B. Rind, began deliberations on taking US-Pak cooperation in science and technology to the strategic level. Other sectoral meetings are scheduled for June 16, 17, 18, 24 and July 1, in which cooperation in the rest of sectors for mutual cooperation, including energy, health and development projects for FATA, will be discussed.

The working groups will submit their final recommendations next month. Finally, on July 21, during her second visit to Pakistan in less than a year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will together announce the final outcome of discussions held by working groups. That, in less than four months after the holding of the Strategic Dialogue, the two countries will be able to work out the actual plan to implement the projects of mutual cooperation in ten areas of priority is good news. This is unlike the past, when so many pledges were made but no significant progress was seen on the ground.

Security Quagmire

For instance, the talk about creating Reconstruction Opportunity Zones in FATA has been there for years, but nothing has so far been done in this regard. Obviously, the delay in establishing such zones could be due to rampant insecurity in the region. For the same reason, NATO has been unable to expand its reconstruction work to the south and east of Afghanistan, which is ridden with Taliban-led insurgency.

However, in Pakistan’s case, the security situation in Swat and South Waziristan has indeed improved after a successful counter-insurgency campaign in the past over a year. This means that the primary factor of insecurity will no ore inhibit the development work in coming months, and the situation will be ripe for setting up the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones at least in this part of the tribal belt.

As for cooperation in other areas, that is not hampered by factors such as insecurity. In fact, the very fact that Pakistan is facing a terrorism-ridden security quagmire necessitates a speedier progress in all of the priority areas defined in the Strategic Dialogue. Take, for instance, the energy sector. There is no doubt that a portion of the $1.5 billion amount that Pakistan will be receiving each year under the Kerry Lugar-Berman Act is meant to help Pakistan overcome its acute energy needs.

Secretary of State Clinton and Richard Holbrooke, special US Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, have respectively pledged additional sums amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars for the purpose. However, so far, we have not seen any qualitative change in the country’s energy situation, which is a major source of public criticism of the current government. Obviously, it takes time to build hydro-electric projects, and expand the already built dams, but, then, there can be other short-tern solutions to the issue.

Energy Sector

There have to be areas of mutual cooperation, where the people need to see immediate progress. Only then they will understand that the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is really moving to a new, strategic level, and that it is no more limited to state-to-state or government-to-government, as was the case before. Cooperation in peaceful nuclear energy could be one sector, in which only an American statement of intent could be of huge symbolic value. We are now years away from the AQ Khan nuclear smuggling scandal, and the Obama Administration can afford to be fair in its nuclear dealings with South Asia

In the Strategic Dialogue the United States is pursuing with India, concrete progress, even in the domain of peaceful nuclear energy, is quite visible. Pakistan perceives itself to be of more strategic relevance to the United States in the War on Terror than India. Therefore, it is all the more important that the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue should also make the same progress, if not more.

The promise of beginning a genuine strategic partnership was indeed manifested in the Strategic Dialogue in late March 2010. The consequent process to implement the pledges made during the dialogue will go a long way in addressing the principal Pakistani grievance with the United States, arising out of the latter’s abandonment of the country in the aftermath of the Soviet troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The sustained multi-billion dollar civilian assistance Pakistan will receive under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, several additional pledges of US support for the country’s energy and other civilian sectors as well as enhanced security and military assistance certainly create the essential framework for a long-term strategic relationship between Pakistan and the United States in the coming years.