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Regional diplomacy
Updated:Sep 21, 2017
 
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Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi meeting US Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly; Afghan President Ashraf Ghani urging dialogue in his speech at the UNGA; and army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa meeting the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan — this flurry of interactions and comments on the region are encouraging and should be sustained. The differences between the US and Afghanistan on one side and Pakistan on the other are deep. The so-called South Asia strategy of the Trump administration has triggered alarm in Pakistan and it remains to be seen what, if any, punitive measures beyond the further curtailment of economic assistance to Pakistan the US may attempt. Pakistan has rightly pressed the issue of anti-Pakistan sanctuaries in Afghanistan and the incendiary US invitation to India to deepen its involvement in Afghanistan, but it must also pay heed to some of the legitimate demands of the latter. Mr Ghani’s speech urged regional cooperation against extremism, which must be taken seriously by Pakistan. The contours and breadth of proposed dialogue between the two countries must not become a sticking point at this stage; it is more important for dialogue to be continued before it is expanded to include all areas of mutual concern.
 
There is also a vital parallel process that must be taken up seriously inside Pakistan: a reassessment of its national security and foreign policies in light of past mistakes and current challenges. After initial sensible critiques by senior government ministers and some parliamentarians, a familiar pattern seems to be reasserting itself: a desire to hit back at the outside world’s criticism rather than to engage with Pakistan’s international partners constructively. Moreover, while some diplomacy needs to be conducted behind closed doors, the debate about national policies should be an open process. Parliament’s resolution rejecting sending Pakistani troops to Yemen is a process worth emulating. A clear statement after extensive debate among institutions on Pakistan’s interests in the region and the terms on which it can engage Afghanistan and India for peace and stability could provide the uniformity of direction that institutions appear to be lacking at the moment. A seemingly endless war in Afghanistan should not be mistaken for Pakistan being able to endlessly delay major policy reassessments. Mr Trump’s South Asia strategy is deeply flawed, but it can become a starting point for Pakistan offering one of its own.
 
Dawn News, September 22, 2017
 
 
 
 
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