Pakistan FM Qureshi: US and Pakistan 'Crucial Allies and Partners'

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Richard Holbrooke, the US State Department's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

WASHINGTON, DC, October 20, 2010 – Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi addressed Asia Society and Brookings Institution on Wednesday following a meeting with President Obama. He was joined by Richard Holbrooke, the US State Department's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Rajiv Shah, Administrator of United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The three convened as part of the third phase of US-Pakistan strategic dialogue.

Qureshi stressed the priorities of the Pakistani government, which are: fighting terrorism, commitment in Pakistan’s sovereignty, and working towards a peaceful and stable South Asia. The last of these, he said, only be achieved if the Kashmir impasse is resolved.

Qureshi spent a good part of his talk addressing terrorism in Pakistan, stressing the losses in human lives, and blows to the economy, that Pakistan has suffered as a result of ongoing attacks. He said his nation's "commitment to our fight against terrorism and extremism is real and demonstrated," adding that the strategic dialogue would have a “direct bearing on the success on the struggle against terrorism and extremism, and the future of the region."

Holbrooke emphasized that the current relationship with US and Pakistan are not the same one from three years ago, but is moving from transactional to strategic, such as in dealing with the case of the Time Square bomber in New York City. "We don’t work with Pakistan because of Afghanistan. We work with Pakistan because of Pakistan itself," he said. "We face a common threat, a common enemy, a common challenge, and a common task."

Qureshi also focused on the floods of this past summer, calling them a "national calamity of unprecedented proportions," greater than the 2004 tsunami in South Asia, the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the southern United States in 2005, and the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year. Twenty-one million Pakistani citizens were affected, with 20% of Pakistan’s land submerged in water. He alluded to the support Pakistan received from the international community during the early days of the disaster, citing that the US was the very first to respond and gave the largest contribution of aid.

Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator, said that the American relief effort benefitted from their strategic dialogue, which has reshaped the substance of US aid to Pakistan and the means by which they provide that aid. He said this aid is focused on food assistance, providing clean water, setting in place a disease outbreak early warning system, and providing shelter for displaced Pakistani people.

"The US's generosity has produced real impact for the Pakistani people," Shah said.

Holbrooke echoed Qureshi's description of the floods, pointing out that it was not just another flood in Asia. Holbrooke responded to the criticisms against the efforts of the Pakistan Government to the disaster, pointing out that the US, with all its capabilities and technology, had difficulties responding to Hurricane Katrina.

However, according to Qureshi, Pakistan still wants to change the fundamental nature of its relationship with the US, which he described as one-dimensional.

"We do not seek dependency, we seek economic viability. We want trade, not just aid," he said. Pakistan wants the US to pass a free trade agreement, which according to Qureshi will give a boost to his country's economy and industrial base.

Reported by Marianne Baesa