Pakistan’s Sharif leaves for key US visit

Top Stories

Pakistan’s Sharif leaves for key US visit

Trade, peace in Afghanistan and drone issue top PM’s agenda

By Our Correspondent

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Sun 20 Oct 2013, 1:01 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 4:33 PM

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif leaves for Washington on Sunday on a three-day official trip that will culminate in a meeting with US President Barack Obama on April 23.

This will be Sharif’s first trip to Washington since being elected prime minister of his country after the May 11 elections. Diplomatic observers here say that the Pakistani premier would not be carrying any great expectations for the challenging trip — first in five years by a Pakistani premier.

Sharif’s reception at the White House would be less opulent, partly because of the post-government shutdown effects, but largely a reflection of difficulties in bilateral relations over the past few years and continued worries in Washington about the PML-N government’s position on fighting terrorist groups operating from Pakistani soil.

Foreign Office Spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry listed priorities for the trip as highlighting government’s economic development agenda, discussing measures to strengthen bilateral cooperation, seeking to enhance trade and investment and sharing vision for peace and stability in the region.

The priorities for Washington suggest that the prime minister would be seeking to address the Obama administration’s concerns that would shape US policy towards Pakistan as the two countries move towards restoring their ministerial level Strategic Dialogue.

Obama, a source said, would be interested in knowing Sharif’s plans for the region — Afghanistan, India, cross-border terrorism, promoting regional trade and energy linkages.

Significantly, the government has already taken a number of steps for addressing the US concerns about its commitment to fighting terrorism — the recently promulgated ordinance is one such move in this direction. Sharif would, therefore, base his government’s case around the new security laws enacted to deny operational space to terrorists.

The prime minister, speaking about the new anti-terror laws, at a meeting on Friday said: “We have promulgated laws which would deal with the enemies of the state within the framework of our constitution and based on principles laid down by our founding fathers. Terrorists, target killers and extortionists will be dealt under the law and they will be punished after due process. If terrorists and killers have any understanding of the word of liberty, they will realise its meaning when they will be denied of that under the new law.”

Kerry to meet PM on Sunday

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State John Kerry will hold talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif here on Sunday at the start of the highest level official Pakistani visit to the United States in several years.

The two men would meet before Kerry heads on a visit to Europe, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday.

Sharif is also due to meet President Barack Obama on Wednesday, October 23, for the highest level White House talks between the two countries since the start of the US administration in 2009, another United States official said.

“It’s an opportunity to broaden and deepen the relationship that we’ve both been working very hard towards in the last few years,” the senior State Department official said.

Relations with the United States have also improved since they plunged to one of their lowest points in 2011 amid the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a US commando raid in Pakistan, as well as the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a US airstrike.

“There have been significant irritants which I think have reduced quite a bit over the course of the last year,” the US official said. — AFP

Sharif would at the same time explain the rationale behind pursuing dialogue with Taleban militants in the country.

Progress in ties would depend greatly on the direction various regional issues — normalisation with India, reconciliation in Afghanistan and drawdown of coalition forces from Afghanistan — take, daily Dawn reported.

Unlike some of the high-profile visits from Islamabad to Washington over the past few years, Sharif may not be carrying an elaborate wish list with him except for hopes of getting economic assistance and increased trade. He last visited Washington on July 4, 1999, for a meeting with the then president Bill Clinton in an emergency to seek his intervention in halting India Pakistan fighting in Kargil.

Sharif agreed to Clinton’s condition for immediate withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Kargil who were earlier described by the government of Pakistan as Kashmiri Mujahideen. Though the visit had taken place at the behest of the then army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the latter cleverly used it to reinforce sentiments in the army that he had turned victory into defeat. Musharraf toppled Sharif government three months later and dispatched him to Saudi Arabia for 10-year exile. Pervez Rashid, Pakistan’s information minister and spokesman for the government, told the delegation would use the trip to raise the issue of drones.

The Central Inteligence Agency’s (CIA) campaign of missile strikes from unmanned aircraft targeting suspected Al Qaeda and Taleban militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghan border has been a significant thorn in relations.

The drone strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan and Islamabad publicly condemns them as counter-productive and a violation of sovereignty, though previous governments are known to have given their tacit support to them.

The US regards the strikes as a highly effective tool in the fight against militancy and Pakistani analyst Hasan Askari said there was little obvious room for progress on the issue.

“The US will refuse to stop these attacks, stressing that Pakistan must improve their control in the tribal areas, which Pakistan is unable to do at the moment,” Askari told.

Parts of the tribal areas are effectively beyond the writ of the Pakistani state and provide safe havens for militants attacking Nato forces in Afghanistan.

A compromise could be reached, Markey suggested, in which the US restricts the number of strikes and coordinates with Pakistan to target only specific Al Qaeda-linked figures.

But he said that any deal could hinge on the status of the Haqqani network, the militant force classified as terrorists by the United States, which in the past has said that the group is connected to Pakistani intelligence.

“Washington would have to be willing under those circumstances to effectively stop targeting Haqqani targets because the Pakistanis won’t allow that. They would never say that they qualify as an Al-Qaeda affiliate and so that may just be a fundamental stumbling block,” said Markey.

With inputs from AFP

More news from