Inaugural Address by Syed Tariq Fatemi, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, at the Conference on "Pakistan's Strategic Environment: Post 2014" organized by Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)
Ambassador Sohail Amin, President, Islamabad Policy Research Institute,
Ladies and Gentlemen!
Assalam-o-Alaikum and Good Morning,
It is a great pleasure to speak to this august gathering. The Islamabad Policy Research Institute has acquired a well-deserved reputation of a recognized platform for generating good ideas, producing quality research, and contributing to the policy process.
I deem it a distinct privilege to share my thoughts on "Pakistan's Strategic Environment: Post 2014." In view of the developments taking place in our neighborhood and the broader region, IPRI’s initiative to hold this conference is timely.
Owing to its geo-strategic location, Pakistan has historically played a pivotal role at the regional and international level. Given the far-reaching transformation taking place in the region, such a role is likely to increase in the future and assume greater significance.
Over the past several decades, Pakistan’s regional environment has been marked inter alia by super-power rivalry, foreign interventions, intra-regional conflict, unresolved disputes, and a rising tide of extremism and terrorism. The traditional threats to security have been compounded by non-traditional threats including climate change, narcotics production and trafficking, and transnational organized crime.
At the same time, demographic pressures in many countries have intensified, the challenges of extreme poverty and underdevelopment accentuated, and efforts to realize the real social and economic potential of the region, yielded only modest results.
But all is not negative. There is some good news, too. Democracy has been deepening across the region. There is a growing realization that inter-state disputes can be resolved through peaceful means alone. Globalization and increasing economic interdependence are creating new impulses for collaboration. The indispensability of regional cooperation for development, is becoming obvious with each passing day.
The current year, i.e. 2014, is a water-shed in terms of sustaining some of these positive trends. Elections in several countries and the likely emergence of new policy elites are but one manifestation of the change sweeping the region. We can also clearly see that the shifting political landscape is accompanied by a growing recognition of the economic imperatives. A pronounced focus on improved governance and people-centered policies is also evident.
It is in this strategic milieu that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has articulated his vision of "peace for development." In fact, this is an outcome shaped by the confluence of internal needs and external imperatives. Hence, the conscious decision to re-balance the country’s geo-strategic and geo-economic priorities.
Since assuming office in June 2013, the Prime Minister has made unstinting efforts to create a peaceful external environment, so that the core national objective of economic development is robustly advanced. Building a “peaceful neighborhood” is central to the realization of this vision.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is of vital importance in this context. Pakistan has suffered grievously from conflict and instability in that country, for decades now. Unless this cycle is decisively reversed, we would continue to bear the brunt. Uncertainty could not only further complicate the challenges on our borders, but also result in refugee influx, enhanced narcotics trafficking, and proliferation of arms.
Afghanistan is at a consequential moment in its history, as it is simultaneously going through security, political and economic transitions. It is in the interest of Afghanistan and the region that these multiple transitions are completed in a peaceful and orderly manner.
The drawdown of NATO/ISAF forces in Afghanistan is slated for completion by December 2014, while President Obama’s latest statement has provided further clarity about the “residual” presence post-2014. He has indicated a troop figure of 9,800 for 2015 and a smaller number till the end of 2016.
It is in no one’s interest to see a return of the 1990s. Therefore, we believe, neither the abandonment of Afghanistan, nor interference in its affairs, is the answer.
The core principles of our own policy towards Afghanistan include mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. While building friendly and good-neighborly relations with Afghanistan, we place an equal emphasis on non-interference and ‘no favorites.’
At the same time, Pakistan has stressed the importance of a responsible drawdown and cautioned against the creation of a security vacuum. No one in the region should seek to fill any perceived vacuum, as it would conceivably result in further instability. This is why a regional consensus on non-interference, espoused by Pakistan, is so essential.
In the context of political transition, the largely peaceful first round of Afghan Presidential elections on 5 April 2014 was a landmark. It demonstrated growing maturity of the democratic process. Pakistan has supported the deepening of democracy and a peaceful democratic transition in Afghanistan. We also made our contribution to the efforts for a free and fair elections process, including through enhanced security along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The Afghan electoral authorities now have the responsibility of completing the electoral process in a credible manner, while the security forces would have to fulfill their task of providing a secure environment. We are hoping that, at the culmination of this process, the Afghan nation would emerge stronger and more unified.
Pakistan has affirmed that it would work with whoever would be the democratic choice of the Afghan people. It is gratifying that the leading contenders have expressed their desire to forge a cooperative relationship with Pakistan.
Of late, there has been a spate of allegations and provocative statements from the other side. While maintaining our policy of restraint and responsibility, we believe that blame game does not serve the purpose of either country.
Progress in the Afghan peace and reconciliation process is a fundamental part of the ongoing transition. There is no military solution to the situation in Afghanistan. All Afghan stakeholders must, therefore, come together and work purposefully to find a political settlement. Pakistan would continue to support and facilitate all efforts for an inclusive, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process.
The economic transition in Afghanistan is of no less significance. In our view, every effort must be made to ensure that there is no economic vacuum -- as it would yield unexpected and destabilizing consequences.
Deeper engagement of the international community is essential to help Afghanistan in reconstruction, enhance economic opportunities, generate employment, and create conducive conditions for the return of millions of Afghan refugees to their homeland.
The focus of Pakistan’s efforts on the bilateral plane is to build a comprehensive and multi-faceted relationship with Afghanistan. Besides intensifying political dialogue and promoting enhanced trade and economic cooperation, we are emphasizing effective border controls and management, counter-narcotics cooperation, and return and sustainable reintegration of refugees in Afghanistan.
Pakistan also supports broader regional and international endeavors for peace, stability and progress in Afghanistan. We have welcomed the U.S. policy goal of a “responsible end” to this long war. Pakistan would continue to work with the U.S. to facilitate an orderly drawdown and encourage an Afghan-led reconciliation process.
Pakistan also supports China’s deepening engagement with Afghanistan, particularly in the economic realm and regional cooperation. China would be hosting the next Heart of Asia/Istanbul Process Ministerial Conference in Tianjin on 29 August 2014. We are committed to working with China for a successful outcome.
Pakistan is also engaged with Iran and deepening its dialogue on regional issues. Our enhanced engagement on the developments in Afghanistan remains vital for promoting the shared objectives of peace and stability -- particularly in the wake of 2014 drawdown and beyond.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is committed to building cooperative ties with India. In our interactions with the Indian leadership since June 2013, we have consistently emphasized the importance of working together to address common challenges, build sustainable peace, and promote the idea of shared prosperity.
Welcoming the successful elections in India, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif telephoned Mr. Narendra Modi on 16 May to congratulate him on the electoral victory of the BJP. The Prime Minister emphasized that the main dynamic in South Asia should be cooperation, not confrontation. Consequently, the Prime Minister responded positively to Mr. Modi’s invitation and participated in his swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi on 26 May. This was a ‘first’ in the history of Pakistan-India relations. The two leaders held a bilateral meeting, which was fruitful in beginning the process of charting a future course for the relationship. The two sides agreed that the Foreign Secretaries would meet soon to review and carry forward the bilateral agenda.
Pakistan remains committed to engaging with the new Indian government through a constructive, meaningful and result-oriented dialogue on all issues. As the Prime Minister emphasized in New Delhi, we are ready to pick up the thread from where it was interrupted in October 1999. We also remain committed to moving towards normalizing the trade relationship, through a deliberate and well-considered process, that ensures mutual benefits.
Meanwhile, we will continue to work for tangible progress towards resolution of all outstanding issues. A just and peaceful solution of the Kashmir issue, in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolutions and the aspirations of the Kashmiri people, is essential for durable peace in South Asia.
Our relations with China continue to be marked by a high degree of trust and commonality of interests. The time-tested relationship between the two nations has transformed into a comprehensive strategic partnership.
Over the past one year, the two countries have achieved a broad consensus on major infrastructure and energy projects.
The first major step in this direction has been taken through the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. This mega project will serve as a “game-changer” in ushering in a new era of peace, cooperation and development in the region and beyond.
Pakistan is en route the three-pronged economic corridor between China, Central Asia and the Middle East. The government’s effort is to realize the full potential of Pakistan’s strategic location, in establishing mutually-beneficial linkages at the bilateral and regional levels, and serving as an intra-regional and inter-regional commercial and economic hub.
This ambitious project envisages building an advanced infrastructure, energy and communication network, linking western regions of China with Pakistan. It would revolutionize trade and investment in the adjoining regions of the two countries, and integrate the whole region in the years to come.
It would also be relevant here to mention the CICA Summit in Shanghai, in which the President of Pakistan, along with the leaders of the region, participated. In his policy statement, President Xi Jinping articulated a new vision of security architecture -- with focus on comprehensive, cooperative and sustained security based on mutual trust, mutual benefit and equality. In a powerful illustration of the shifting focus to geo-economics, the Summit also occasioned the signing of a major energy deal between China and Russia, in the presence of President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Iran plays a pivotal part in our vision of a peaceful neighborhood and realization of the region’s immense potential for progress and prosperity.
As part of his outreach efforts, the Prime Minister recently concluded a successful visit to Iran, where he had wide-ranging consultations with the Iranian leadership. A number of MoUs/Agreements were signed with a view to deepening and institutionalizing mutually-beneficial cooperation in diverse fields.
We have welcomed recent moves for a negotiated solution of the nuclear issue through the 5+1 process and hope that a final agreement would be concluded soon, as it would contribute to peace and stability in the region.
Pakistan also continues to work on deepening its special relationships with the fraternal countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, with a primary focus on trade, investments and energy cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The United States is an important part of our strategic environment and a key element in Pakistan’s foreign policy considerations. The U.S. continues to stress its interest in advancing regional stability and development.
The Pakistan-U.S. relationship, spanning over more than six decades, has been marked by periods of engagement and estrangement. Since June 2013, relations between the two countries have continued to improve -- including through a series of high-level interactions and the revival of the Strategic Dialogue.
For the future, we envisage enhanced, broad-based cooperation on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest. We are focused on greater trade, enhanced market access, more investments, collaboration in the energy sector, counter-terrorism, and security and defence cooperation.
In the post-9/11 period, the U.S. largely viewed Pakistan through the lenses of Afghanistan and terrorism. We have conveyed that these must be balanced by giving due importance to Pakistan’s own security concerns. The Pakistan-U.S. relationship must develop on its own merit, as we move through 2014 and beyond.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Pakistan and the European Union enjoy friendly and cooperative relations. These ties have been reinforced with the democratic transition in Pakistan. Pakistan and NATO-ISAF have worked together to promote the cause of peace and stability in Afghanistan. Our interests converge on an orderly transition.
The EU is our largest trading partner and a major foreign investor. The grant of GSP+ status to Pakistan reflects the desire on both sides to engage in an enduring partnership for common benefit. We would continue to work for comprehensive up-gradation of cooperation in the political, trade, and economic and social sectors.
Pakistan’s relations with the Russian Federation are growing steadily. The two countries cooperate closely at the UN and SCO. We share common interests in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Pakistan seeks Russia’s cooperation in building energy corridors, economic linkages and road and rail network linking Central Asia with Pakistan. We are keen to realize the huge potential of mutually beneficial cooperation in the commercial and economic fields, both bilaterally as well as at the regional level.
With the shift of focus to economic diplomacy, Pakistan is making efforts to further fortify its existing economic and commercial ties with Japan, ASEAN, and the ANZUS region. Similarly, we are deepening relations with our friends and partners in Africa and Latin America.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Pakistan is located at the crossroads of vast regions, with powerful economic complementarities. Sustainable peace and development in the region is possible only when all the regional partners have stakes in it. Pakistan has the potential to play a role as a conduit between the energy-rich Central Asia and energy-deficient South Asia and China.
Key energy and communication projects linking the regional countries include the TAPI gas pipeline project, the Iran Pakistan (IP) project, the CASA-1000 electricity project and the ECO container train project (also known as Gul train), linking Islamabad with Istanbul can hopefully take off as soon as conducive conditions arise.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also places special emphasis on infrastructure development and has plans for a motorway from Kashgar to Gwadar, then on to Karachi and finally to Lahore. We also plan to take the Lahore-Peshawar motorway to Kabul and beyond to the Central Asian Republics. In time, the Economic Coordinator could be extended to Afghanistan and Central Asia and well as other parts of South Asia. Mini Economic Zones would be established along the motorways. This would be a boost for regional trade and economy benefitting over 3 billion people of the region.
In sum, the time ahead is bringing challenges, as well as vast opportunities. Pakistan has to cruise through these uncharted waters with skill and resolve, which explains why the Prime Minister has been stressing an equal emphasis on geo-political and geo-economic imperatives. To realize this, the Government continues to count on a consensus approach, backed by support from across the political spectrum and civil society at large.
Let me conclude by expressing my gratitude for your invitation. I am confident that IPRI would continue its positive contributions to the policy discourse in Pakistan.
I thank you.
28 May 2014