WASHINGTON DC: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on US President Barack Obama to end drone strikes, which are widely unpopular in his country, during a meeting in the White House on Wednesday.
Speaking next to Obama in the Oval Office at the White House, Nawaz said he “brought up the issues of drones during our meeting, emphasizing the need for an end to such strikes.”
Obama did not mention drones when addressing reporters. But in a joint statement, the two leaders said their partnership was “based on the principles of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Obama also tried to reassure Pakistan on the status of Afghanistan, where US combat forces plan to withdraw next year.
Obama said he was “confident” of a solution “that is good for Afghanistan, but also helps to protect Pakistan over the long term.”
Obama hailed Pakistan’s sacrifices from extremism. More than 40,000 Pakistanis have died in attacks over the past decade.
“I know the Prime Minister is very much committed to try to reduce this incidence of terrorism inside Pakistan” and also wants to stop its export, Obama said.
Obama acknowledged tensions and “misunderstandings” between the two countries. He said the two leaders had pledged to work together on security issues in ways that “respect Pakistan’s sovereignty.”
“We committed to working together and making sure that rather than this being a source of tension between our two countries, this can be a source of strength for us working together,” Obama said.
Speaking to reporters later, Nawaz said that it was imperative that Pakistan puts its house in order first.
Nawaz said that Obama had brought up issues relating to Dr Shakil Afridi, Jamat-ud-Dawa, and trial of alleged involved persons in Mumbai attacks. On the other hand, he said he raised issues pertaining to release of Dr Aafia, and highlighted the Kashmir issue.
The premier said that a number of bilateral economic and trade opportunities were discussed including cooperation to address Pakistan’s energy crisis, scholarships and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.
Strategic dialogue slated for March 2014
One of the outcomes of the meeting was the definitive revival of strategic dialogue between US and Pakistan with March 2014 set for resumption of meetings.
“Both leaders welcomed the resumption of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue and reaffirmed its importance as the suitable framework for guiding the bilateral relationship,” a readout from the joint statement read.
The discussed the forthcoming Ministerial-level Strategic Dialogue, which Secretary Kerry would be hosting in Washington by March 2014, will focus on people-centered initiatives and on results-oriented outcomes in support of the long-term stability, prosperity, and security of both the United States and Pakistan.
In addition to that, the two countries also decided on the strategic priorities for the five working groups including: 1) Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism; 2) Economics and Finance; 3) Energy; 4) Security, Strategic Stability, and Non-Proliferation; and 5) the Defense Consultative Group.
Future of Afghanistan
With a military and political transition in Afghanistan in 2014, Pakistan is the one that stands to be affected the most.
While Nawaz reiterated Pakistan’s oft repeated policy of non-interference and interest in a peaceful, stable, independent and united Afghanistan. A policy supported by Obama.
The premier also underlined that the support of the international community in the repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan and their reintegration in Afghanistan was of critical importance to Pakistan.
While both affirmed their commitment to the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political transition and the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan, Obama said that he would keep Nawaz fully briefed on the process.
“I pledged to fully brief the Prime Minister and his government in not only Afghan elections, but also a long term strategy for stability in the region.”
Both leaders called on the Taliban to join the political process and enter into dialogue with the Afghan government.
They shared their mutual conviction that a stable and peaceful Pakistan-Afghanistan border was important for the success of counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and counter-IED efforts, and they underscored the critical significance of effective border coordination mechanisms between Pakistan and Afghanistan in achieving these objectives.
With Pakistan’s nuclear safety being called in to question in recent times, President Obama reiterated his confidence in Pakistan’s commitment and dedication to nuclear security and recognized that Pakistan is fully engaged with the international community on nuclear safety and security issues.
Both leaders emphasized that nuclear terrorism is one of the most challenging threats to international security.
Obama appreciated Pakistan’s constructive engagement with the Nuclear Security Summit process and its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international forums, while acknowledging Pakistan’s efforts to improve its strategic trade controls and enhance its engagement with multilateral export regimes.
Ties with India
With violent incidents along the disputed Line of Control threatening peace between nuclear-tipped neighbours Pakistan and India, President Obama welcomed the recent engagements between Nawaz and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh.
Obama expressed the hope that this would mark the beginning of a sustained dialogue process between the two neighbours, aimed at building lasting peace in South Asia and resolving all outstanding territorial and other disputes through peaceful means.
He welcomed steps taken by Pakistan and India to improve their economic relations, including by exploring electricity and gas supply agreements, developing a reciprocal visa regime, and expanding bilateral trade.
Later Nawaz recalled that he had raised the issue of Kashmir with Obama.
In the end, both leaders committed themselves to remaining in close contact and to continuing their efforts to build a strong, broad-based, long-term, and enduring relationship between the two countries.
Following the meeting, Nawaz left for Andrews Air Force base to fly back to Pakistan.