US, Pakistan need to be honest about differences: senator

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There seems to be a realisation in Washington that the administration’s attempt to force Pakistan to change its Afghan policy is not working. ─ Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: “To be honest about differences, that’s important, to be honest,” said Bob Casey, a senior member of the US Senate while describing how he thinks relations between the United States and Pakistan can improve.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, pointed out that historically the United States and Pakistan “have been very good friends” but “that relationship has cooled, somewhat in the last few years”.

Senator Shaheen, who as a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs plays a key role in shaping US policies towards Pakistan, acknowledged the need to rebuild the once-close relationship and urged the Pakistani-American community to play its role by getting involved in the American political process.

“I think it is important for us to figure out how to right the relationship, so that we can continue to be very strong allies,” she said.

These two senior members of the Democratic Party were among about 20 lawmakers who spoke at a reception that the Pakistani American Political Action Committee (PAK PAC) hosted for the new, 116th Congress in Washington on Wednesday night.

The presence of so many American lawmakers at a Pakistani reception was a pleasant surprise as these days US senators and congressmen maintain a safe distance from Pakistan.

Even the Pakistan Embassy struggles to lure US lawmakers to its receptions and recently turned to state legislators to ensure an American presence.

But that seems to be changing with a softening of the US administration’s approach towards Pakistan. There seems to be a realisation in Washington that the administration’s attempt to force Pakistan to change its Afghan policy is not working. So, they are now seeking Islamabad’s cooperation for ensuring a graceful end to America’s longest military engagement, the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Senator Casey, the first Democrat to win re-election to the Senate from Pennsylvania, however, was honest and frank in explaining how he thinks US-Pakistan ties can be mended.

He urged both sides to ensure that “we continue to engage even when we have disagreements” and one of the most important areas of cooperation, he added, has to be counterterrorism.

“There’s no place in the world that has suffered more gravely from terrorism and terrorist attacks than Pakistan,” he said, noting that Pakistanis have worked with the US government in implementing US counterterrorism strategies.

“Sometimes it works. Sometimes we do not share enough information. Sometimes it is a breakdown,” said Senator Casey, explaining why Washington often seems frustrated with Islamabad.

“And every president, I think, should have the right to question the relationship, to ask more questions about the bilateral relationship,” said the senator in an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s recent statements about Pakistan. “But I think it is of critical importance that we continue to engage to defeat terrorists and to counter any terrorist activity,” he added.

Senator Casey noted that the US and Pakistan have also had difficulties in maintaining a strong economic and trade relationship.

“We should continue to pursue that because the Pakistani people have a lot to offer the world and have a lot to offer our markets. And I hope we can continue that,” he said.

Senator Shaheen reminded Pakistani-Americans that “democracy is only as good as the people who engage in it” and if they wanted to influence policy-making, they need to get engaged.

“It is really important because that’s how we make policies. Unless we engage, we are not going to change the things we disagree with,” she said.

House of representatives; Democrats Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Elissa Slotkin, Susan Wild, Madeleine Dean, Greg Stanton, Steven Horsford, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Andre Carson, Mary Gay Scanlon, Andy Levin, and Max Rose, and from among Republicans; Joe Wilson, Jack Bergman, Brian Fitzpatrick and Jim Banks attended the reception.

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