Asad Majeed Khan, second from right, Pakistan's current ambassador to the United States, is seen at an Ambassadors Dialogue event in Washington, Dec. 16, 2019. (Natalie Liu/VOA News)
Asad Majeed Khan, second from right, Pakistan's current ambassador to the United States, is seen at an Ambassadors Dialogue event in Washington, Dec. 16, 2019. (Natalie Liu/VOA)

WASHINGTON - Pakistan became a sovereign state in 1947, following the end of British rule of the large area in South Asia known as the subcontinent. Throughout its more than 70 years of history, the country has been a "frontline state" in global power play, as one of the country's former ambassadors to the United States puts it.

Today, Pakistan wants to be regarded by the U.S. more "in its own right, not through the prisms of other countries, be it Kabul, New Delhi, or Beijing," Asad Majeed Khan, Islamabad's ambassador in Washington, said.

Khan made the remarks during an event last week hosted by the Washington-based Sustained Dialogue Institute.

Asad Majeed Khan, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, is seen at an Ambassadors Dialogue event in Washington, Dec. 16, 2019. (Natalie Liu/VOA News)

While stressing that his country considers its ties with the United States to be "important and consequential," Khan said his government would like to see the relationship move beyond "the security pillar" to establish equally strong bonds in education, commerce and trade.

One of Khan's predecessors as ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, told VOA in a written interview, "Historically, Pakistan's elite tended to offer their country as a frontline state in great power rivalry."

Moving beyond this history, being considered "for what it is rather than as a facilitator for one big power against another," would be a positive development, Haqqani said. However, he cautioned that unless the country manages to "end its dependence on other [countries'] largesse," which he describes as "concessional flows" that consist of grants, easy-term loans, and military sales on soft credit, the notion that Pakistan is "seen in its own right," i.e., by its own merit, would remain elusive.

FILE - Pakistan Ambassador Husain Haqqani speaks at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Arkansas, July 29, 2009.

Haqqani served as his country's top envoy in Washington from 2008 to 2011. He now directs South and Central Asia studies at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.

While addressing an audience in Washington, Khan extolled Pakistan's assets, including strategic location, agricultural resources and a population of 210 million, which can offer both a strong work force and a large consumer base.

He acknowledged that the region's potential for development has been undermined by conflicts, and said Pakistan is "keen to see peace within and peace around us."

A short film shown at the event made the point that Pakistan has more to offer than the frequent news reports about conflict and violence in the region would suggest. The film featured soaring mountain ranges, lush plateaus, and inviting farmlands supported by a highly developed irrigation network.

"Conflict, political crises and economic underdevelopment are the result of policies and have nothing to do with a country's natural beauty or the general productivity and niceness of its people," Haqqani, the author of four books on his country and its foreign relations, said.

Haqqani emphasized the importance of nation-building from within to strengthen its footing as Pakistan looks ahead in both its internal and external developments. Strengthening democratic institutions and constructing a sense of national unity that transcends religion and nuclear weapons, he said, are key actions that will lead the multiethnic South Asian nation toward peace and prosperity.

Pakistani police officers attend the funeral for their colleagues in Lower Dir, Dec. 18, 2019. Gunmen shot and killed the two policemen who were part of the most recent anti-polio drive in the volatile northwest.

Deadly incidents such as one last week in which a gunmen shot and killed police officers accompanying polio vaccinators during a national immunization campaign, however, underscore some of the challenges Pakistan faces on its journey to democracy and modernization.

As VOA has reported, radical Islamic groups, particularly in rural areas, claim that the polio eradication campaign is a Western conspiracy to sterilize Muslim children.

With regard to U.S.-Pakistan relations in light of reports of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Haqqani said that were that to happen, U.S.-Pakistan relations stand to lose their current "military-strategic underpinning."

He further said that given Pakistan's close ties with China and Washington's increasing cooperation with India, bilateral relations between Washington and Islamabad may face some renewed challenges in the context of long-term strategic rivalry between the United States and China.

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