WASHINGTON: A delegation of 14 lawmakers from Pakistan arrived in the US capital on Friday to participate in a six-day forum, which establishes a new channel of communication between the two countries.
The lawmakers will spend almost an entire week, discussing how to carry forward this important relationship in a way that not only strengthens bilateral ties but also promotes democracy in Pakistan.
This is the first bold attempt to go beyond two established channels of communication: military-to-military and executive-to-executive, and enable Pakistani lawmakers to reach out directly to their colleagues on Capitol Hill.
The talks are expected to focus on a question that also stirred heated debates in previous interactions between the two countries: Will the United States stay engaged with Pakistan after the end of the Afghan war?
The White House and the US State Department always respond to this question with a strong reassurance that they have no desire to disengage from that region.
While approving a billion-dollar arms sale to Pakistan earlier this week, the State Department informed Congress that “this proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a country vital to US foreign policy and national security goals in South Asia”.
In previous statements, the White House also has said that America’s relationship with Pakistan was not linked to its involvement in Afghanistan or its ties with India.
But many in Congress do not reciprocate these feelings.
Reacting to the decision to sell weapons to Pakistan, Republican senator and presidential hopeful Rand Paul warned: “We do not project strength by borrowing money from China to send it to Pakistan.”
He used his inaugural speech for the presidential race to tell the Obama administration that the Pakistan had little goodwill for America.
“It angers me to see mobs burning our flag and chanting ‘Death to America’ in countries that receive millions of dollars in our foreign aid,” he said.
Diplomatic observers in Washington urged Pakistani lawmakers to use this opportunity to convince US lawmakers that a strong relationship between the two countries would be good for both.
“They should also tell US lawmakers that it is a long, historic relationship, which has sustained many shocks because it’s important,” said one such observer.
Some Pakistani parliamentarians have already reached the United States and others are coming on Saturday to participate in the US-Pakistan Legislators Dialogue Forum being held in Washington, from April 11-17.
The organisers clarified that the parliamentary dialogue would complement, and not substitute, the existing dialogue process between the two executives and militaries.
They hope that the forum will help broaden the relationship “beyond the traditional areas of cooperation”, such as security and economic cooperation, and will explore areas such as trade, investment, education, and democratic governance.
The US-Pakistan Legislators Dialogue Forum is an independent initiative, facilitated by the Convergence Centre of Policy Resolution, the Consensus Building Institute in the US and PILDAT in Pakistan with support from the United States Institute of Peace.
The delegation includes Senator Farhatullah Babar, PPP; Senator Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, National Party; Ms Aasiya Nasir, JUI-F; Syaid Ghazi Gulab Jamal, Independent, Fata; Mr Muhammad Afzal Khan, PML-N; Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak, PTI; Syed Naveed Qamar, PPP; Omar Ayub Khan, PML-N; Mr Sanjay Perwani, MQM; Shafqat Mahmood, PTI; Shazia Fatima Khawaja, PML-N; and Shazia Marri, PPP.
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2015