US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue: Low On Substance – Analysis


A Strategic Dialogue provides a mechanism to nations to achieve common goals and build trust in the relationship. In the case of US and Pakistan, as the relationship is beset with tension (and bereft of trust), the strategic dialogue provides an avenue to openly exchange views with each other on a strategic level and to take the relationship to a more comfortable level by focussing on more agreeable issues on the menu (trade, energy etc). The fifth round of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue was held on Jan 27, 2014.

The process of the strategic dialogue between the US and Pakistan was initiated in 2006 when US President George W. Bush visited Pakistan. It had followed Pakistan’s designation as a non-NATO ally of the US in 2004. The next round of talks was held in December 2007 and the fourth round of the dialogue was convened on March 24-25, 2010 in Washington. The meeting coincided with the shift in US policy which was now open to mediation and reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban. Then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, accompanied by respective delegations, met in Washington for the ‘upgraded’ strategic dialogue. This dialogue, in a departure from the previous three rounds, had been raised to the ministerial level and was co-chaired by the US Secretary of State and Pakistan’s foreign minister. The fourth round also saw then Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in attendance – an US acknowledgement of the role of Pakistan military in the articulation of Pakistani foreign policy .

In 2010, the US-Pakistan dialogue process saw hectic activity with a second ministerial level meeting within the dialogue being held in Islamabad on July 19, and the third on Oct 20-22 in Washington. On March 19 that year, during the first meeting, Richard Holbrooke enumerated the objectives of the US government in AfPak as: destroying al-Qaeda, helping Afghans become self-reliant to take care of their security, and strengthening Pakistan’s ability to deal with its own security, development and stabilizing democratic institutions.

During the 2010 dialogue, a Policy Steering Group was established to “intensify and expand the sectoral dialogue process in the fields of economy and trade; energy; defence; security; strategic stability and non-proliferation; law enforcement and counter-terrorism; science and technology; education; agriculture; water; health; and communications and public diplomacy.”

The Fifth Round

Ministerial meeting of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue was held in Washington on Jan 27, 2014, chaired by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Pakistan Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz.  This was the first such meeting since the announcement of the revitalized strategic dialogue during Kerry’s visit to Pakistan in August 2013. Kerry and Aziz reaffirmed the importance of the dialogue and reviewed the progress of its five working groups: 1) Energy; 2) Security, Strategic Stability, and Non-proliferation; 3) the Defence Consultative Group; 4) Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism; and 5) Economics and Finance. Meetings of the first three working groups had convened in November 2013.

In his opening remarks Aziz, possibly mindful of the criticism back home of the poor outcomes of the previous dialogues, thought it prudent to state what would make a normal interaction between two nations a strategic dialogue. He spelt out three constituents; One, mutual trust at all levels and among all key institutions. Two US needs to take long term view on Pakistan beyond the two specific issues of Afghanistan and terrorism; and Last, the dialogue must comprise people-centered initiatives and result-oriented outcomes. He also requested Kerry to revive the sixth working group on education.

The two areas where the strategic dialogues have made reasonable progress are in the spheres of preferential market access for Pakistani goods and energy security.

Market Access for Pakistan

The US and Pakistan had committed to work towards enhanced preferential market access for Pakistani products through the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) legislation and a Bilateral Investment Treaty. ROZs were to grant import concessions for products manufactured in industries in terror-hit areas of Pakistan. In the process compensate for the losses suffered by the people in bordering areas of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) due to war on terror. However, in August 2012, US declared that ROZs will not be available to Pakistan as US administration has shelved the proposal despite negotiations continuing since 2006.The US has, however, progressed with its proposal on investment matters of bilateral interest, under the Pakistan-US Trade and Investment Facilitation Agreement (TIFA) Council. A meeting in this regard is slated for March 2014 in Washington. Also planned is a follow-on conference to the successful US-Pakistan Business Opportunities Conference held in Dubai in June 2013, as well as a US-convened conference in April 2014 in Islamabad that looks to encourage regional trade by linking Pakistani and Central Asian businesses.

Energy Program for Pakistan

After the strategic dialogue in Islamabad on July 19, 2010, Hillary Clinton announced Phase II of the US Signature Energy Program for Pakistan which aimed to provide an additional $60 million for seven projects to be implemented by various US agencies. The Phase I of the programme was announced in October 2009 and had provided $125 million for six projects. Gomal Zam Dam (17.4 MW) in South Waziristan, Satpara Dam (17.36 MW) in Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan, in addition to feasibility studies on natural gas assistance, smart grid and distribution and use of renewable sources of energy.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the development finance institution of the US government, is working on financing up to 300 MW of wind power generation projects in Pakistan. The US has also committed $15 million in support of the Central Asia-South Asia electricity transmission project (CASA-1000) that will create a regional energy grid.

Discussions on the US-Pakistan security relationship and defence cooperation are taken forward through the annual meeting of the Defence Consultative Group (DCG), which last met in November 2013. A follow-on Defence Resourcing Conference (DRC) scheduled for February 2014 will focus on security assistance issues. Besides, a Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism Working Group meeting is planned for March in Washington. Pakistan has continued to receive security-related funds under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, but release of funds has got more conditional over the time.

Even though Aziz made the mandatory reference to Kashmir, the joint statement avoided the issue. Despite Pakistan drawing attention to its energy crisis the Iran-Pakistan and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipelines did not figure in the discussion nor did any military aid, drone strikes or unconditional financial assistance from the US.

The US-Pakistan strategic dialogues have always ended in a whimper for Pakistan. The fifth round, true to Pakistani fears, does not seem to be looking beyond Afghanistan and terrorism.

(Monish Gulati is a Research Fellow with the Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at [email protected])

Monish Gulati

Monish Gulati is an independent analyst based in New Delhi.. He can be reached at [email protected]

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