Washington- Ahead of assumption of office by the incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, representatives of the United States and Pakistan have voiced the hope for a new beginning on the whole spectrum of relations between the two countries strained mainly by drone attacks in the Tribal Areas.

Ambassador Robin Raphel, who advises US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, pledged to advance relations across the board with Pakistan, noting what she called were positive signals from Sharif since his PML-N swept the May 11 polls. Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Masood Khan said, "Stable relations between Pakistan and the US are good for the two countries, for the region, and for world peace and stability. A strong strategic partnership requires that the two countries demonstrate commitment to each other’s core national interests."

Ms. Raphel and Ambassador Khan were speaking at a conference organised by Pakistani American Congress (PAC) at Rayburn Building near Capitol Hill where diplomats and experts weighed in on the future of US-Pakistan wide-ranging relationship. Ambassador Raphel noted that from a low point in 2011-12, the two countries have are now at a different place and the two countries are working together to reset the relationship for pragmatic and realistic cooperation on economic and counterterrorism areas.

“He (Sharif) has already sent very positive signals publicly by stating his interest in strengthening the US-Pakistan relationship, his commitment to energy and economic reforms and his desire for improving ties with both India and Afghanistan,” Raphel noted.

Raphel particularly noted that his “very strong mandate” gives Sharif an opportunity early in his tenure to address the serious challenges that Pakistan faces today including energy shortages, economic stagnation and violent extremism.

“For our part, the United States remains deeply committed to strengthening our long-term bilateral relationship across the board,” she vowed.

“We look to the future where increased economic linkages both between the United States and Pakistan and across the region provide a foundation for relationship. We really are interested in promoting private sector ties between our two countries,” Ms. Raphel, a former career diplomat with long experience in South Asia added.

Apart from detailing some fruitful results of US assistance for Pakistan in the last three years, Ambassador Raphel told the conference, where leaders of Pakistani American Congress urged making trade instead of aid as the bedrock of relations, that the US will support a conference in the Gulf to highlight Pakistan’s tremendous investment potential.

On confronting the menace of terrorism, which she termed as a primary concern, Ms. Raphel said Pakistan and the United States have been working closely on this “difficult” issue.

She acknowledged the fact that Pakistanis suffered 40,000 casualties in the face of terrorist attacks in the last decade. “Sharif has publicly committed to ensuring that Pakistan will not be used as a base from which to conduct any terrorist attacks,” she noted. Raphel also saw “another good sign” in Sharif’s statements ahead of his assumption of power. Pakistan has articulated its view that stability and peace in Afghanistan is one of its core objectives. “We believe that there can be an Afghan-led political process that leads to a stable and secure Afghanistan but also takes into account Pakistan’s legitimate interests.”

Raphel also found it encouraging that Nawaz Sharif has set a positive tone on repairing Pakistan-India relations, including his gesture of inviting his Indian counterpart to visit Pakistan. “This has raised prospects for progress on India-Pakistan front,” she said, remarking that both countries have made some progress. She also argued that increased trade would help Pakistan tremendously.

“As they continue to expand trade --- when trade opens up there will be possibility for discussion and collaboration on other issues and this will ultimately help bring greater stability to the region.”

Raphel also recognised Pakistan’s key importance at the heart of the sensitive regions. “We believe Pakistan has a significant role to play in the larger multilateral perspective. ---- Pakistan has long been one of the world’s largest contributors of troops to UN peacekeeping missions ---- as the multilateral world expands and diversifies, we look forward to Pakistan playing a positive role on the 21st century global challenges such as climate change food security, global health.” “So, while we need to remain clear-eyed about Pakistan's enormous challenges like economic and security I definitely see the glass half full.

The compelling interests, whether it is economic and security, Afghanistan and so on, will require both the US and Pakistan to work together in the spirit of friendship and mutual respect. And for these reasons and many more we will remain committed to a lasting partnership with Pakistan.”  In his keynote address, Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan said the two countries have a critical bond and a longstanding relationship. The two sides should build on convergences and bridge divergences to strengthen their  relations, he stressed. 

Pakistani Americans were a soft power for Pakistan in America because they had earned prestige and distinction in this land of opportunity, he said. "They had demonstrated to the Americans that Pakistanis are diligent, talented and responsible citizens. Pakistani Americans have been ambassadors of goodwill between Pakistan and the United States,” he said.

Ambassador Masood Khan said a strong strategic partnership requires that the two countries demonstrate commitment to each other’s core national interests. As Pakistan continues to negotiate a wrenching transition to stability and economic development, it will need help in the energy and education sectors. The US entrepreneurs, educationists, and scientists can help Pakistan in this regard.

Pakistan and the US should hold intense dialogue to resolve divisive issues like drone operations, which violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and cause civilian fatalities, he said. The issue is used as a recruitment tool by terrorists and puts the entire Pakistani population at risk because of the random retaliations by militants, he stated.

Before 2014 and in the post-2014 period, Pakistan and the US need to collaborate to support transitions taking place in Afghanistan: reconciliation and economic reconstruction. Pakistan supports peace and stability in Afghanistan. Multiple transitions reconciliation, security, and electoral must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.

Charge d'Affairs at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, Dr. Asad M Khan, speaking in the backdrop of 2011-12 difficulties in relations between Islamabad and Washington, said now the bilateral relations are on an upward trajectory.

Asad Khan noted that in their phone conversations to congratulate Nawaz Sharif, the US leaders including President Barack Obama have expressed the desire to work together to strengthen bilateral ties.

Dr. Marvin Weinbaum, who heads the Center for Pakistan Studies at Washington's Middle East Institute, said the US and Pakistan are on the same page with regard to bringing stability to Afghanistan but the difficulty is in actualising the goal that would involve the Taliban agreement with Kabul.

But bilaterally, he underscored the need for resolving the drone issue between the United States and Pakistan. He argued that President Obama, in his counterterrorism speech last month, should have made an effort to address Pakistan's concerns on the issue. Had President Obama said directly to Pakistan something on finding a mutually satisfactory policy on the drones, it would have made things a lot easier for the Pakistani leaders, he remarked.