Mr. Dilawar Syed, Special Representative for Commerce and Business Affairs,
Mr. Fred Kempe, President of the Atlantic Council,
Mr. Uzair Younus,
Dr. Rabia Akhtar,
Distinguished keynote speakers and panelists,
I begin my remarks by congratulating the Atlantic Council, Engro Corporation, University of Lahore, and Johns Hopkins University for organizing this conference on the future of Pakistan-United States relations. It is a good combination and a good model for discussing Pak-US relations—one think tank, two universities, and a reputed corporation. This helps us put security and non-security issues on the table, with the economic agenda getting preeminence. And, you have assembled an impressive cast here. I see friends all around from Pakistan and Washington.
I pay tribute to Mr. Fred Kempe for his leadership in using the platform of the Atlantic Council to promote understanding between Pakistan and the US and cementing their bilateral ties.
The prospects of Pakistan-US relations are bright and our ties are poised to grow in the future.
This year we have celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of our diplomatic ties showing their depth and longevity despite ups and downs, which should be expected in any relationship.
The foundations of the strategic and economic partnerships that we laid shortly after the creation of Pakistan have served the interests of both the countries. Pakistan benefited economically and militarily from US support, and together we made the world safer through collaboration during the Cold War, by fighting terrorism, by being comrades in UN-led peacekeeping and by jointly conducting counterpiracy operations, among others. We have been partners in war and peace. From the Cold War and post-Cold War periods, we have brought this legacy of cooperation to the era of new technological age, which is constantly transforming regional and global landscapes.
The spirit of solidarity between our two nations continues. In the past year, Pakistan helped the US with massive evacuations from Afghanistan and continues to do so. To fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the US has delivered seventy-nine million vaccine doses to us, making it the largest donor to Pakistan. We appreciate that the US has also provided $80 million to us to beat the coronavirus and build capacity for disease surveillance.
Following the US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, there was some uncertainty and disquiet about the relevance and nature of our relationship. Debates were held in Islamabad and Washington. Realists said rightsize or downsize it; the pragmatists suggested to explore new avenues to advance mutual interests.
Diplomacy since then has brought our engagement to an even keel thus leading to public pronouncements by the leadership of the two countries that Pak-US relations have been de-hyphenated—de-hyphenated from Afghanistan, de-hyphenated from India, not Af-Pak, not Indo-Pak, but Pak-US or US-Pak. We have been assured that even China would not be a new hyphen, a new prism for Pakistan in Washington.
And what’s more, we are strengthening our bonds. High level visits and communication have given a fresh impetus to our endeavors to recalibrate, reenergize, and rejuvenate a broad-based relationship. It would be a practical, pragmatic, and realistic correlative without mismatch of expectations and attendant disappointments.
The evolving parameters of this relationship are clear: Pakistan and the US would continue to make efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, counter terrorism, and foster regional security. These are shared objectives. We welcome continuing direct talks between the US and Kabul’s interim government representatives, and Pakistan’s role in this context remains important, for one, because Afghanistan is its immediate neighbor.
There is immense space for Pakistan and the US to engage and work together for crafting positive pathways as we forge ahead.
Our relations with the US will not be all about counterbalancing India. The US policy in the past was based on regional equilibrium. There is no reason it should not be now. But, Pakistan and the US, together, are developing a singular trajectory with responsibilities in the broader region. The US relationships with Pakistan and India stand on their own, as both neigbhors are nudged to address their differences. We too believe that resort to diplomacy and dialogue will usher in peace and security in South Asia.
We will be honest about each other’s strategic calculi and imperatives. Pakistan has strong ties with China. We want to have very robust ties with the US in all fields. At the moment, neither country has asked us to make a binary choice. And that’s great. Many other countries—such as Indonesia and a growing number of the Middle Eastern countries—are in a similar situation.
We believe a harmonious strategic alignment will create a salutary environment for scaling up our bilateral ties especially in the economic, technological, and educational domains. And we would ensure that geopolitics does not interfere with this framework. This is not merely aspirational. Hard work is underway on both sides to translate this into policy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The World Bank report Pakistan @ 100: Shaping the Future envisages Pakistan as an inclusive society, an innovation-driven economy, and a trade and investment pivot.
Let’s look at that cusp.
Pakistan is not what it has been projected to be. People are surprised when they are told that it has the fifth largest population in the world, some 230 million people, with more than eighty million in the middle class, a median age of twenty-two, the fourth largest number of zoomers and millennials, fourth largest English-speaking nation, 120 million broadband subscribers, and hundreds of thousands of tech professionals. The entire economy of Pakistan is being digitized, fast.
These impressive demographic cohorts are under the radar screen. Global technology investors and venture capitalists, mainly from the US, however, seeing the immense potential, are taking the lead in unlocking new business ecosystems in Pakistan, especially in the tech sector. Thousands of successful startups have sprung up in the past two years and are thriving in fintech, e-commerce, healthtech, agritech, retail, transportation, logistics, supply chains, construction, and real estate businesses. Big VCs like Kleiner Perkins, Dragoneer, Tiger Global and Acrew from the US, Kingsway from the UK, Europe’s Speedinvest, Gobi from China, and UAE’s Sharooq are all financing these ventures.
Pakistan will become the next regional tech hub servicing Central and West Asia, Middle East, and North Africa.
The US VCs are already a big player in this emerging tech market. Scores of tech entrepreneurs from the Silicon Valley and all around the US are raising funds for the startups. Most of them don’t have to even travel to Pakistan because they can operate effectively from the cyberspace.
The US conglomerates and multinational corporations have been doing good business in Pakistan for decades. These include top brands like Proctor and Gamble, Abbot, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, to name a few, and invest in energy, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, communications and consumer goods. Altogether there are eighty American enterprises who give jobs to nearly 150,000 people and sustain more than a million households. Their business experience is positive as they prepare to diversify their product lines for Pakistan and exports to regional markets.
As we frame Pakistan-US relations for the future, we cannot underestimate the contribution of nearly one million strong Pakistani-American community which has become a rock-hard bridge between our two countries. Many amongst them, who have excelled here, are investing in businesses in Pakistan and the US, carving new keystones for our connectivity. We would jointly build on their successes.
Our bilateral trade has been growing fast. Despite COVID-19 and other fluctuations, the US remains the largest export market for Pakistan. Last year our trade increased from $8.4 billion to $12 billion. Pakistan’s exports went up from $7 billion to $9 billion, of which IT exports were $1 billion.
To move to the next level of performance, Pakistan has a long to-do list, which includes macroeconomic structural reform and ease of doing business. We have taken some far-reaching steps in that direction, as we work to make our regulatory regime business friendly by streamlining taxation, expediting profit repatriation, and enforcing intellectual property protection. We are proactively working with the US government on business climate enhancement, and are also having dialogue with the private sector on their concerns about draft Data Protection Bill. I have heard many independent testimonies from US tech entrepreneurs stating that the State Bank of Pakistan, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, and the Ministry of Finance are helping new startups to innovate and grow. Still, we have a long way to go.
To prepare them for the markets, we have to work on the quality and training of the 300,000 students, which include an increasing number of women who graduate every year from some 200 universities.
We need to get access to international payment gateways like PayPal.
Pakistan, as you know, has been devastated by recent climate-induced floods. One-third of our territory, equal to the entire state of Colorado, was submerged in water and thirty-three million people, comparable to the population of California, were affected. We are facing multiple catastrophes spawned by this climate disaster. With the help of the international community, which has estimated our current losses to the tune of $40 billion, we should be able to rebuild our destroyed or disabled infrastructure, houses, healthcare systems, and educational institutions. It is a daunting task, but we will succeed.
We thank the US government for providing $97 million in humanitarian assistance to support our rescue, relief, and early recovery operations, and we value its commitments to help us in even more critical phases of rehabilitation and reconstruction.
We also thank American citizens, including Pakistani-Americans and US businesses for contributing another $27 million in cash or kind.
The stark reality is that Pakistan emits less than 0.4 percent of global greenhouse gases and yet it is the eighth most vulnerable country to climate change. This is not victimhood: this is scientific data published by Nature, Lancet, and World Weather Attribution, among others.
As we ask for climate justice, we would work with the US to leverage its technology and expertise to build climate-resilient infrastructure that would include hydropower dams and alternate energy plants. Some of this is already happening, but we need to level up.
For our part, we have learnt some hard lessons to prepare for a possible next disaster by reconstructing green, by revamping housing adjacent to riverine regions, and by redesigning our drainage systems and reservoirs.
In the heyday of Pak-US friendship, our nations acclaimed American-supported Green Revolution in Pakistan. We welcome the United States’ recent initiative announced by Ambassador Donald Blome in Islamabad to launch a Green Alliance. This would provide us an umbrella for our cooperation to develop weather-resistant hybrid seeds and promote linkages between our agriculture universities for research in GMOs, genetic engineering and biotechnology.
It would be a fatal mistake to ignore our obligations to work skillfully on conflict management and conflict resolution, regional deterrence, response mechanisms, and strategic stability. These areas should not become a blind spot because of the emerging security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region. We should not devalue the currency of confidence building and effective communication. It is important that we oppose violent extremism in whatever form it rears its head, including institutionalized religious hatred. Bilateral and multilateral diplomacy on Kashmir should be revived. Sustainment of US-origin legacy military equipment and an end to the ban on the sale of new defense platforms to Pakistan are a legitimate expectation as mutual confidence grows. Think tanks are the best catalysts for such conversations.
The people of Pakistan and the US share universal values of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.
Our relations should therefore be people-centered and beneficial for both nations. It is important to promote people-to people exchanges, including by liberalizing our respective visa regimes. The more American officials, lawmakers, businessmen, students, entrepreneurs visit Pakistan, the deeper understanding they will have of the country, its people and its neighborhood. Congressional leaders who visited Pakistan last year came back with transformed perceptions.
We are grateful to the US for sponsoring and supporting hundreds of Pakistani students’ enrolment in American colleges and universities, including in the STEM disciplines. We have urged the US to open these doors wider because the graduates from the US academic institutions will nurture our friendship for decades.
Pakistan cannot be stereotyped nor the US reduced to facile generalizations. Here we need to employ the tool of public diplomacy to dispel misperceptions and misgivings. For that we need to develop a new lexicon and new expertise. Let’s jettison anachronistic and toxic diction. We can hark back or look forward. Let’s look forward. Lincoln Corners in Pakistani Universities are a good starting point. Let’s have Pakistan chairs here in American Universities.
To sum up, I would say, have faith in Pakistan and have faith in Pak-US relations. There is a compelling realization that we need each other. We deeply value the new energy in US diplomacy towards Pakistan and we are reciprocating fully. There would be a pot of gold at the end of Pak-US rainbow. It is not myth. Together, we could turn it into reality.
I thank you.
These remarks were presented on Monday, October 31st at the 2022 Conference on the Future of the US-Pakistan Relationship, hosted jointly in Washington, DC by the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, the Engro Corporation, the University of Lahore, and Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
The program can be viewed below.
View remarks here
The South Asia Center serves as the Atlantic Council’s focal point for work on the region as well as relations between these countries, neighboring regions, Europe, and the United States.
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