Secretary Tillerson’s recent visit to Pakistan demonstrated the significance that the United States places on our relationship with Pakistan and the vital work that still awaits us. The secretary discussed our continued cooperation and partnership, expanding economic ties between the United States and Pakistan, and Pakistan’s critical role in the region.
The secretary underscored that when we work together, we can accomplish great things. I have seen this firsthand during my tenure as the American ambassador in Pakistan. Our work together has provided nearly 33 million Pakistanis access to electricity – that’s about one out of every six people in Pakistan – by adding more than 2,800 megawatts to the national grid. With the Kuram Tangi and Gomal Zam dam projects, we are investing 16 billion rupees to help irrigate nearly 210,000 acres in North Waziristan, and Tank and Dera Ismail Khan districts.
Over the past 70 years, America and Pakistan have collaborated to establish institutions such as the Institute for Business Administration, the Lahore University of Management Sciences, and the Indus Basin Project. We have built or repaired more than 1,000 schools. Together, we support one of the largest Fulbright scholarship programmes in the world.
Why do we do all of this? Because the American people share the vision that the Pakistani people have for their own country and their own future: one of a vibrant, resilient democracy with opportunity and security for all.
Our security work forms a pillar in the relationship, with many shared objectives. Together, we promote strategic stability and combat terrorism around the world. We see this, for example, in the collaborative approach that Pakistan, the United States, and others have taken to combat piracy off the coast of East Africa. Pakistan and the United States both lead in their support for UN peacekeeping missions; the United States is the largest funder of peacekeeping operations, while Pakistan is one of the largest providers of troops. These examples – and there are many – prove that we can accomplish great things together that serve the interests of our two countries and the world when we are motivated to work together.
Secretary Tillerson emphasised Pakistan’s key role in working with the United States and others to promote peace and security in the region. We saw what we can accomplish together as recently as two weeks ago, when Caitlan Coleman and her family were rescued after five years of captivity. As Secretary Tillerson noted then, we are hopeful that our relationship will be “marked by growing commitments to counterterrorism operations and stronger ties in all other respects.”
The Pakistani government has made significant sacrifices and remarkable progress over the last few years in rooting out terrorists and creating a more secure and peaceful Pakistan. The United States respects the sustained efforts of the Pakistani security services and the military and their enormous sacrifices. In counterterrorism, too, we have seen joint successes through intelligence sharing and the provision of equipment and training.
However, there is still unfinished business. Together, we must go the extra mile to develop and promote true and lasting security and stability in the region. Pakistan has much to gain in addressing the shared interest we have in helping Afghanistan establish a viable peace and reconciliation process. As Secretary Tillerson said, “We look to the international community, particularly Afghanistan’s neighbours, to join us in supporting an Afghan peace process.” To that end, all terrorist groups, including those operating within Pakistan, must be denied the ability to cross borders to conduct attacks on other countries. Security in South Asia is in America’s interest. But it is the citizens of Pakistan who will benefit most when the threat of terrorism is eradicated from Pakistan.
Will there be challenges ahead? There are challenges in any relationship. We must remain willing to have the conversations needed – sometimes difficult conversations – to move forward on the many issues of mutual interest to the people of Pakistan and the United States. Secretary Tillerson’s visit is the latest step in our continued work to expand our 70-year partnership, to the great benefit of the people of Pakistan and the United States.
The writer is the ambassador of the United States of America.