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October 24, 2013

US-Pak Meeting Generates Hopes for Long-Term Partnership

by Kokab Farshori

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington and his meeting with President Obama this week came at a time when the two countries have been trying to repair relations, damaged by U.S. drone strikes against militants in Pakistan.  But experts in Washington believe that the visit helped a great deal in overcoming some of the low points the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has seen. 

The meeting at the White House remained focused on the issues where each country seeks cooperation from the other.  For President Obama, Pakistan’s cooperation on a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan featured importantly.

"I am confident, working together, we can achieve a goal that is good for Afghanistan, but also helps to protect Pakistan over the long term," said President Obama.

Prime Minister Sharif said he hopes for the end of U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan.

"I also brought up the issue of drones in our meeting, emphasizing the need for an end to such strikes," said Prime Minister Sharif.

Some Washington experts such as Moeed Yusuf of the United States Institute of Peace say one should look at the long-term prospects of such meetings rather than immediate outcomes.

"I think this was about cementing and reiterating that this relationship is strong, it’s needed, it’s important, and it’s not only important because of Afghanistan.  It is important no matter what happens there and beyond 2014," said Yusuf.

As the new leadership in Islamabad begins a relationship with the United States, the two countries need to remain engaged on a long-term basis. That's according to Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a recent book on Pakistan.

"The United States needs to be able to plan its exit, plan logistics. Those require Pakistan, for the most part, to get the supplies and materials out and plan a post-2014 future in Afghanistan.  They want some kind of certainty as to where Pakistan stands, and it’s just the beginning of that conversation with the new leadership in Islamabad," said Markey.

Some experts think that, in the past, U.S.-Pakistan relations remained focused on how well the leaders in Washington and Islamabad got along.  For the long-term strategic relationship, U.S.-Pakistan ties need to be institutionalized, says Yusuf.

"I think this relationship for too long has been about leaders, about individuals.  I think we really need to institutionalize this.  We already have a strategic dialogue framework.  If that is not the right one, we can set up another one.  But this needs to be done at the working level so that institutions connect," he said.

During the meeting, the issues of trade, education and Pakistan’s economy also came under discussion and experts believe issues like these can build a foundation for a more productive partnership between the two countries.

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