WASHINGTON, Sept 14 (APP) : “Pakistan is with the United States for the long haul. However, rather than calls for “do more”, Pakistan needs to be given strategic space and sympathy”, Ambassador Sherry Rehman said. She was speaking at an event of the 50-member Pakistan Caucus in the US House of Representatives, organized by Caucus Co-Chairs Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (Democrat, Texas) and Dan Burton (Republican, Indiana). The caucus had not met for five years despite its existence in Congress. In a two-hour long discussion on the subject of “Pakistan and the United States: The Road Ahead”, the Ambassador took the opportunity to thank the United States for its friendship towards Pakistan while also laying before the legislators and their staffers, Pakistan’s priorities, concerns and apprehensions.
She also highlighted the numerous instances of close, and in some cases,historical cooperation between the two countries since 1947.
“We do not want to be seen as just a function of US concerns in Afghanistan. We are an important country in our own right that has a history of close friendship with the United States”.
Responding to a query about the trust erosion between the two countries relating often to the region, she said that Pakistan is seeking to build a relationship based on transparency and predictability, and there is a clear strategic shift in our calculus in the region, with proactive diplomatic engagement on both sides of the border as well as with all other regional countries.
“We are pivoting our policy initiatives on new economic opportunities in the region. This means we seek to maximize trade and economic investments in the region as much as we continue to focus on the prospects for stability in the neighbourhood”., unlike what we routinely hear in the media.
She thanked Representatives Jackson Lee and Burton for arranging this event, which provided the opportunity for a frank discussion on a relationship of tremendous importance to both sides. “We are looking to be better understood and to understand better”, she said. She also thanked them for their friendship and leadership towards Pakistan.
Ambassador Rehman also spoke about the constitutional and legislative achievements of the democratic government, at the same time thanking the US Congress for its support for restoration of democracy in Pakistan.
“While some in the US Executive Branch cooperated with dictators in Pakistan for short-term gains, the people of Pakistan have always counted on the US Congress to stand with them in their battle for democracy and human rights”, she said.
“ Pakistan is undergoing a challenging transition in a very volatile region, but it is important to recognize that in six months Pakistan will go into an election supervised by a n autonomous election commission. We are on the way to making our first peaceful constitutional transfer of power, and are poised to join the club of big democracies.” She said that “ we seek to build our relationship with the US on trade and investment as much as any other kind of dynamic, because that will create ties that bind.”
Earlier, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who is the Co-Chairperson of Pakistan Caucus since its inception, expressed her appreciation of the long Pakistan-US relationship and Pakistan’s support for the US. Speaking about the current mood in the Congress about Pakistan, she said that negative amendments relating to Pakistan in various bills may seem to respond to the immediacy of the moment, but did not always “capture the true spirit and extent of the relationship”.
She paid glowing tributes to the Ambassador in her capacity not only as a representative of Pakistan but as a journalist, parliamentarian and human rights activist. She also acknowledged the threat of terrorism to Pakistanis saying that Pakistanis were living with this threat daily. “Pakistan is truly in the eye of the storm”, she noted. Rep. Jackson Lee also expressed concern about the detention of Dr. Shakeel Afridi and the blasphemy case against Rimsha Masih.
Congressman Dan Burton was also effusive in praising Pakistan’s longstanding friendship with the United States. He said that Pakistan-US relationship was extremely important and the present difficulties should not be allowed to detract from its strategic and long-term significance. “It is important that the two countries look past the present differences”, he said.
Regional peace and stability depended on a good Pakistan-US relationship.
Congresswoman Karen Bass (Democrat, California) said that “Pakistan is an indispensable and strategic ally of the United States and that the two countries are bound together by peace, democracy, human rights and the rule of law”.
Congressman Hank Johnson (Democrat, Georgia) said that Pakistan was ally of the United States though the relationship was complicated.
“There are problems on your side, such as the presence of groups who attack Americans in Afghanistan, and there are problems on our side”. He tried to allay Pakistan’s fears about the situation in Afghanistan after 2014. “We don’t plan to abandon the area. We will have a long term presence there”, he said.
Responding to concerns about Afridi,who is cast as a hero in the US, Ambassador Rehman said , “Don’t valorize him. He was a free agent working for the highest bidder. By masking his actions behind humanitarian work, he has not only endangered the lives of brave humanitarian workers, both foreign and local, but done tremendous damage to Pakistan’s crucial vaccination program. He was working with Lashkar-i-Islam, a group that was fighting and killing Pakistanis.” Rehman also spoke at length about the state of vulnerable communities in Pakistan, saying that while we have real concerns about protecting women and minorities, it is a long, often dangerous road ahead for reformist initiatives in a volatile environment.
The event was attended by a number of legislators and their staff.