WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, has demanded that the US should provide more strategic depth and sympathy to her country.
Speaking at an event organized by Pakistan Caucus in the US Congress, Sherry Rehman voiced the continuing concern saying that the US should drop asking Pakistan to “do more”.
In an attempt to refresh the memory of many lawmakers sitting in the audience, the ambassador highlighted numerous instances of close and historical cooperation between the two countries. “We do not want to be seen as just a function of US concerns in Afghanistan,” she said adding that “while some in the US Executive Branch cooperated with dictators in Pakistan for short-term gains, the people of Pakistan have always counted on the US Congress to stand with them in their battle for democracy and human rights.”
The Pakistan Caucus event was organized by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressman Dan Burton. The Caucus is a group of members of the US Congress that works to promote the relationship between the two countries. It had not met in the last five years.
This was the first time the ambassador spoke to a high level audience after the restoration of Pak-US relations in July this year. The State Department earlier this month designated the Haqqani network as a FTO, which also triggered the debate whether Pakistan was cooperating enough to squeeze the notorious group.
Ambassador Rehman has intensified her efforts to engage with the US lawmakers and exploit every opportunity available.
In a two-hour long discussion on the subject of “Pakistan and the United States: The Road Ahead”, she emphasized that Pakistan “seeks to build its relationship with the US on trade and investment as much as any other kind of dynamic.” Noted US lawmakers present in the audience appreciated Pakistan’s efforts in the war on terror but at the same time appeared tough.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson, who is the Co-Chairperson of Pakistan Caucus since its inception, acknowledged the threat of terrorism to Pakistanis saying that Pakistanis were living with this threat daily. “Pakistan is truly in the eye of the storm”, she said. However, Rep. Jackson Lee also expressed concern about the detention of Dr Shakeel Afridi and the blasphemy case against Rimsha Masih.
Ambassador Rehman spoke at length about the state of vulnerable communities in Pakistan, saying that while we have real concerns about protecting women and minorities, it is a long, often dangerous road ahead for reformist initiatives in a volatile environment.
Responding to the concerns about Afridi, Ambassador Rehman urged the audience not to “valorise” a free agent. She said, Afridi was working for the highest bidder. “By masking his actions behind humanitarian work, he has not only endangered the lives of brave humanitarian workers, both foreign and local, but done tremendous damage to Pakistan’s crucial vaccination programme,” she said.
Congressman Hank Johnson said that Pakistan was an ally of the United States though the relationship was complicated. “There are problems on your side, such as the presence of groups who attack Americans in Afghanistan, and there are problems on our side.”
He tried to allay Pakistan’s fears about the situation in Afghanistan after 2014. “We don’t plan to abandon the area. We will have a long term presence there,” he announced.
Congresswoman Karen Bass called Pakistan an “indispensable and strategic ally,” while Congressman Dan Burton also praised Pakistan saying that the relationship was extremely important and the present difficulties should not be allowed to detract from its strategic and long-term significance.
Addressing a question about the trust-deficit between the two countries, Sherry Rehman said: “The relations need to be based on transparency and predictability, and we are pivoting our policy initiatives on new economic opportunities in the region.”
She added: “This means we seek to maximize trade and economic investments in the region as much as we continue to focus on the prospects for stability in the neighbourhood.”