ISLAMABAD                       -             Alice G. Wells, the Acting US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, said Monday that she was looking to take the relationship between Pakistan and the United States to a ‘trade based rather than an aid based cooperation.’

The remarks resonated with a longstanding desire of Pakistani officials, especially Prime Minister Imran Khan. Mr. Khan, during a visit to the United States last year, had said that he wants a “dignified relationship” with America that is not constrained by the compulsions of aid. Pakistan and the US currently have a $6.6 billion annual bilateral trade relationship. 

Ambassador Wells, who is on a four-day visit to Pakistan, made these remarks Monday evening at a dinner reception hosted by former Senator Enver Beg. The dinner reception was attended by several retired generals, diplomats, and prominent journalists.

The senior US diplomat also appreciated Pakistan’s role in the ongoing peace talks in neighbouring Afghanistan and said that “Pakistan and United States have seen unprecedented cooperation in the context of Afghan peace talks.”

Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has played a vital role in the Afghan peace process and reiterated on several occasions that peace in Afghanistan is very important for Pakistan and the country would continue its efforts to bring peace and stability in the region.

The Taliban have recently agreed to a reduction in violence, and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi last week had said that the announcement by the group was an essential step towards a peace agreement in Afghanistan. 

Ambassador Wells arrived in Islamabad Sunday after a visit to India and Sri Lanka and spent a busy day yesterday meeting with senior officials in Islamabad. She met with Abdul Razak Dawood, the Special Advisor to the Prime Minister for Commerce, Textile, Industry & Production, and Investment. Mr. Dawood, after meeting with the US delegation led by Ambassador Wells, said that the United States is eager to increase trade ties with Pakistan and identified agriculture as a sector where immediate progress could be made.

Ambassador Wells also met with Brig (r) Ijaz Shah, the Federal Minister for Interior. Among other issues, both officials held talks about stopping illegal immigration to the United States, streamlining the verification of passports and travelling documents.

The visiting US delegation was also given a detailed briefing by officials at the Pakistani interior ministry about the progress regarding the Financial Action Task Force.

At the dinner reception held at Mr. Beg’s palatial house on the outskirts of Islamabad, Ambassador Wells was accorded a warm welcome by the former senator and his family. Senator Beg, during his remarks, said that he had the pleasure of knowing Ambassador Wells since 1999 when she served as the political head at the US Embassy in Islamabad. He said that he hoped the visiting diplomat would have constructive meetings with the officials in Islamabad, and the relationship would move forward.

Among the other notable guests were General (r) Ehsan Ul Haq, the former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staffs Committee, Lt Gen (r) Asif Yasin Malik, the former Secretary of Defense and Commander of 11 Corps, Riaz Hussain Khokar, the former foreign secretary, Ambassador Abdul Basit and Dr. Ashfaque Hasan Khan, former advisor to the finance ministry. 

(Additional reporting by Shafqat Ali)