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Pak-U.S. Strategic Dialogue: what to note

The Pak-U.S. strategic dialogue on 29th February has received less media attention both in U.S. and in Pakistan.Pakistani media was over-whelmed by Secretary of State Kerry’s appreciation of Pakistan’s military operation Zarb-i-Azb and his remarks about Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s 2nd Academy award. Pakistan’s demand for more F-16 fighter jets was also highlighted by few media outlets. However, few of the important points of the strategic dialogue are very less reported or ignored by the media.

The important issue raised by U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry was about nuclear non-proliferation. It should be noted that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to participate in Nuclear Security Summit during this month. In the past, U.S. and Pakistani officials had held various talks on improving security and installing new safeguards on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. Pakistan’s nuclear capability is perceived as posing a global threat in view of unrelenting Indian propaganda of this capability passing into the hands of extremist and terrorists.The U.S. House of Representatives previously referred a new Pakistan-specific nuclear sanctions bill called, the Nuclear Black Market Elimination Act (HR 4965), to impose sanctions on foreign entities that engage in certain nuclear proliferation activities, and for other purposes. The proposed law specifically calls for sanctions against Pakistan if the country fails to get a clean chit from the US President on its nuclear program. Though surprisingly the US has not pressurized Pakistan regarding its nuclear program mainly due to Pakistan’s role in war on terror but still there are fears that Pakistan would be pressurized on this issue in the future.

It is interesting to note that issue of the sale of F–16s to Pakistan has become a transformative element of the U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship over 25 years. In the early 1980s, the U.S. government initially agreed to sell Pakistan 111 F– 16 aircraft. This decision was influenced by U.S.close partnership with Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. By October 1990, however, Pressler sanctions were imposed when President (George Herbert Walker) Bush was unable tocertify that Pakistan was not developing a nuclear weapon. The Pressler sanctions led to a decade-long suspension of security assistance to Pakistan and a deficit of trust between the two countries that we are still working to overcome.The 9/11 attacks resulted in a profound shift in U.S. policy towards South and Central Asia. The Bush Administration sought to overturn decades of bitterness by agreeing to sell Pakistan a new generation of F–16s and providing it with the ability to upgrade its existing fleet. Pakistan had originally planned a total purchase valued at $5.1 billion. The 2005 earthquake and subsequent financial constraints caused Pakistan to reduce the number of new planes it wanted to purchase from 36 to 18, which lowered the overall value of the deal to approximately $3.1 billion. The 18 new planes valued at $1.4 billion, with the remainder of the $3.1 billion dedicated to associated munitions (valued at approximately $641 million) and 46 Mid-Life Update (MLU) kits for Pakistan’s existing F–16 fleet (estimated to cost $891 million). Additionally, the United States provided Pakistan with 14 F–16s designated as excess defense articles.Pakistan also requested U.S. to allow the use of a portion of its FY 2008 and FY 2009 Foreign Military Financing Presidential commitment, totaling $368M, for theF–16 Mid-Life Update program.

It is important to note that prior the strategic dialogue; Secretary of State John Kerry told a U.S. House of representative committee that Pakistan’s existing fleet of F-16s have been critical for its counter-terrorism fight on the western border with Afghanistan. One must hope that Pakistan will get the required F-16s as they provide a critical counterterrorism capability to Pakistan and PAF has recently made extensive use of its aging F–16 fleet to support Pakistan Army operations against terrorists. F–16s use day-night, all weather, air-dropped precision-guided munitions; and P.A.F will be able to use this capability to countering militants along its western border. The new and enhanced F–16s will provide Pakistan the ability to attack fleeing targets with precision during all weather conditions.

It is also very encouraging that U.S has pledged $250 million to help rebuild the communities of IDP’s in Pakistan.According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), almost 700,000 individuals have been registered as displaced as a result of the Zarb-e-Azb. By comparison, previous military operations are thought to have resulted in at least 550,000 IDPs. However, the actual number of Pakistanis entering displacement camps as a result of Operation Zarb-e-Azb is thought to be even higher, given that some have not been able to register with the NDMA. In addition, the Afghan government claims that it is providing shelter to over 100,000 IDPs that have crossed the border since the start of the conflict.

U.S. commitment to new U.S.-Pakistan Clean Energy Partnership is very positive – which will add another 3,000 megawatts from clean energy sources.It is beyond the doubt that electricity shortfall has become one of the most significant issue for the recent Governments in Pakistan.The persistent shortage of electricity in the country has adversely affected the national economy. Industrial production has been severely hit; and also triggered social unrest which sometimes turns violent thus, creating law and order problems in many urban centers in the country. According to one estimate power shortages have resulted in an annual loss of about 2 percent of GDP. One of the recent studies suggests total industrial output loss in the range of 12 percent to 37 percent due to power outages.

U.S. Secretary of State rightly pointed out, ‘perhaps no area of cooperation is more critical to Pakistan’s long-term success than cooperation in education, science, and technology.’ The academic collaborations between the two countries can help Pakistan in its capacity building.

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