By Ali Imran
WASHINGTON, May 16 : The United States and Pakistan have convergence of interests in a lot of areas to foster an enduring strategic partnership, beyond 2014, when the U.S. engagement with the region transitions into a new phase after its military drawdown from neighboring Afghanistan, a Pakistani scholar researching relations between the two countries said.
Simbal Khan, who as Woodrow Wilson scholar focused her research on U.S.-Pakistan security relationship, cited geo-strategic imperatives and commonality of objectives in areas where both countries can build on cooperative ties to secure their long-term interests.
For instance, both Washington and Islamabad want stability in Afghanistan, where they have cooperated for more than a decade to eliminate al-Qaeda terrorist threat, she noted at a presentation on “U.S. –Pakistan Security Relations: From 9/11 to 2011, with an Eye on 2014.”
“There is a U.S. interest in not letting what it has invested in Afghanistan in the last ten years – estimably something like $ 1.5 trillion – to go to complete waste and let Afghanistan again fall into bits, (where) various actors (could be) taking refuge,” she remarked, when a participant wanted to know as to what regional synergies could form the basis of a long-term partnership between the two countries.
Pakistan’s interest for stability in Afghanistan obviously stems from its overriding security concerns that a troubled neighbor on its Western border poses for it. As has been witnessed historically, Pakistan is always the first victim of insecurity in Afghanistan.
In the broader regional perspective, the United States’ relationship with Pakistan is vital with regard to Washington’s policy toward South and Central Asia, Khan said.
In this respect, Khan referred to U.S. interests vis-à-vis China and India, who are both competing for access to energy resources. With a keen interest in supporting Indian effort to get access to Eurasian and Central Asian resources, energy and markets, the U.S. is aware of the significance of regional cooperation as New Delhi’s objective can only be achieved through Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Islamabad itself has a longstanding policy to link up to resources and markets of Central Asia, Khan, who has led research on Afghanistan and Central Asia at Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad since 2008.
“So, I find a lot of resonance in this area,” Khan said.
During the discussion, Simbal Khan also noted that it is for the first time that Washington is engaged closely with Pakistan, India and Afghanistan simultaneously and is well-placed to use its influence in the regioin.
The scholar opposed the contention that the two countries should abandon security ties in order to normalize their relationship, arguing that relations between countries rest on the pragmatic principle that they need each other and that they need to deal with each other.
“If the U.S. and Pakistan have not abandoned relationship between them, it is not out of charity on the U.S. part and it is not out of any emotional act on part of Pakistan. It is basically because both countries need each other.”
However, she noted, with the approach of 2014, the agenda of U.S. relationship with Pakistan is now changing and more clarity is coming into the relationship. As part of her research project, which would be brought out in a book form, Khan found several “deliberate ambiguities” in the relationship.
Officials in Washington, she however emphasized , have been clear in appreciation that they got cooperation from Pakistan in going after al-Qaeda militants, who took refuge in Pakistani tribal areas in the wake of U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following 9/11 attacks.
Robert Hathaway, Director Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, expressed appreciation for Simbal Khan’s devoted work on the wide-ranging security cooperation between the United States and Pakistan.