Islamabad, Pakistan–(ENEWSPF)–January 13, 2015
Well, thank you, Sartaj. Assalamu alaikum and thank you very, very much for the generous welcome that you and the prime minister and your team have given to all of our team here. We’re very, very appreciative, and I appreciate the warmth and the breadth and seriousness of the statement that you just made, a good kickoff to a very important dialogue which we value enormously.
As you know – as you mentioned, in fact, I have been here many times. I’ve been here in some difficultmoments – moments where we had to pull back from the brink. And I’ve been here in some moments that were particularly inspiring, and I think especially the honor of being here on Election Day in 2008 with two Senate colleagues who now serve with me in the Administration: Vice President Biden and Secretary Hagel. So this Administration has a long history of working with Pakistan and of caring enormously about the issues in this region. I’ll also never forget my visit in 2005 when I was here and we were delivering assistance to people in the wake of the earthquake, and I remember watching these kids who came down from the mountains to go to school – many of them going to school, I might add, for the first time. And together, we helped to build something good out of something tragic. Today’s Strategic Dialogue was, frankly, another opportunity for our two countries to build on that common ground.
Now it has to be said, frankly, that we know there are challenges, and we’ve seen how much progress could be made when we work together to try to find that progress. There’s really no way to overstate the importance of our cooperation or the potential, frankly, to improve our security and prosperity, and to improve it for the Pakistani people as a whole. And the American people will share in that, both the prosperity and the security, through actions that are based on mutual respect and mutual interest. I think the depth and the breadth of the U.S. delegation that is here today really speaks to and underscores America’s commitment to this relationship.
Before I focus on the agenda for today and our goal, frankly, through that agenda, I just want to say a couple of words, if I may, about the horrific attack that took place on December 16th. We did not feel far away from that. We felt, as you felt, a sense of immediate urgency, and that day began just like any other day, with mothers and fathers sending their kids to school to learn, to fulfill a dream, to find opportunity. But by afternoon, those kids were gone and their lives were stolen by Taliban assassins who literally serve a very dark and medieval vision that is the opposite of everything that those parents wanted for their kids and for their country. So this was far from the first time, as we know, that the Taliban had attacked a school. But the scale, the breadth of this, the unmitigated savagery of this attack shocked the world.
As a longtime friend of Pakistan, as you mentioned, Sartaj, I was moved and inspired to see Pakistanis of all backgrounds, of all ages, unite against the scourge of terrorism in the immediate hours and days after that attack. And in vigils and protests across the country, citizens and civil society organizations said loudly and clearly, “Never again, not on our soil.” Pakistan’s leaders from across the political spectrum declared in unison, in no uncertain terms, that they would not tolerate extremists – any extremists – in their territory. And just days ago, less than one month after this tragedy, the Army Public School welcomed students back to the school, a great statement of determination and perseverance. It’s a testament to the strength and the resolve of the Pakistani people, and it sends an important and unmistakable message across the world that in the face of even the most horrific destruction, we, all of us together, will come back, and we will come back stronger and more determined than ever before not to allow acts of violence to deter us from our course.
So on behalf of the American people, let me once again simply say that we share your sorrow and your anguish. And we also share your determination to see that such a catastrophe does not happen again.
I want you to know that we also recognize – I don’t think this is said enough – the extreme sacrifices that many Pakistani military personnel and their families have made in confronting al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups. Pakistan’s military operations in North Waziristan have disrupted militant activities in the tribal areas and resulted in important seizures of weapons, which you cited, Sartaj, and of IED materials. And Operation Zarb-e-Azb – which means sharp strike, I understand – is the latest and most extensive phase of your government’s effort to exert greater control over your own territory. The operation is not yet complete, but already the results are significant, and Pakistani forces and their commanders deserve enormous credit, and we want to cite that here today.
Last night, I had the opportunity to meet with Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership, and there was strong consensus expressed about the importance of combating all forms of terrorism. Terror groups like the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e Tayyiba, and other groups continue to pose a threat to Pakistan, to its neighbors, and to the United States. And we, all of us, have a responsibility to ensure that these groups do not gain a foothold, but rather, are pushed back into the recesses of Pakistan memory. This task is obviously far from finished, but make no mistake: Just as we stand with the people of France as they mourn the victims of last week’s murderous attacks on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, we will stand with you in solidarity and in commitment to the cause of confronting extremist violence, anywhere and everywhere that it occurs.
Now I want to emphasize this relationship is not just about the threats we face, and it’s really important for people to understand that. It’s also about building a deeper, broader, and long-term engagement with the people of Pakistan. When then-Senator Biden, Senator Hagel and I were here for that election, we celebrated the fact that it was the people of Pakistan expressing their hopes for their future for all of the country. And as I said before, Pakistan’s prosperity and its security as well as our own, all depend on our fulfilling those aspirations.
Building stronger ties with the people of Pakistan is something that I’ve been committed to for a long time. I worked with Vice President Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to sponsor what became known as the Kerry-Lugar bill – the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, and that authorized substantial economic assistance. If you look at our budget today and the amount of money allocated, very, very few countries in the world have commanded $7.5 billion over five years. It is a statement of American commitment and it is there, and was sent specifically to build people-to-people ties. Over the last five years, the assistance has gone towards building roads, dams, bridges, and health clinics in Pakistan – projects that have improved the daily lives of people. But even more than dollars or programs, this legislation embodied an idea – the idea that the bond between our countries is not limited to our fight against common enemies, but it also extends to what we can build together.
With our two countries disagreeing on some things, obviously, we still have issues to work out. We know that. Of course we’re not going to agree on everything. But friendship doesn’t require that. It does require that we work honestly and directly with each other, candidly to prevent issues and events that might sometimes divide us in a small way from causing us to neglect the interests that unite us in a big way. And those common interests are clear – defeating terrorism; building prosperity; creating a social, political, and regional stability that will last; and helping the democracy of this country and the civilian control of this country to grow.
Since this dialogue last convened, U.S. Trade Representative Froman and Minister of Commerce Dastgir have begun working towards expanding bilateral investment and trade. Annual two-way commerce has already reached more than 5 billion, and the United States is now, today, Pakistan’s largest export market. But we all know there is room to grow, as Sartaj has just said. We agree. And that is why we are organizing the U.S.-Pakistan Economic Partnership Week here in Islamabad in March. And it’s why our trade ministers concluded an MOU on promoting women’s economic empowerment. I am particularly proud of our cooperation through the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council, which has promoted girls’ education and trained hundreds of women entrepreneurs. Pakistan is stronger for the diversity and the dynamism of its people, and any country – any country is at its best when every man, woman – regardless of religion, sect, or gender – is able to participate fully in society. No country, no team can possibly win when half the team is left on the bench.
Our energy partnership is a preview of the larger potential for our economic relationship. For the last five years, the United States has worked with Pakistan to improve electricity delivery, which has resulted in adding 1,400 megawatts to your power grid. That’s enough electricity for more than 16 million Pakistani citizens. We are supporting new transmission and renewable energy projects. The investments of American companies are crucial to this effort, and we are particularly excited about the role that U.S. technology and services will play in the inauguration of the new LNG import terminal in Karachi. The United States also voted for the Dasu Dam hydropower project at the World Bank, and we co-hosted an event with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to build private sector support for the Diamer Bhasha Dam. And we know that as we continue to work together, we’re going to be able to attract an awful lot more investment for clean energy, which is a huge growth sector of all of our economies.
The United States has also partnered with you to make significant investments in infrastructure. We funded the construction and rehabilitation of more than 1,000 kilometers of roads, including the four main trade routes to Afghanistan. And these investments will support the vision of a Pakistan that is at the center of an economically diverse and increasingly dynamic South Asian marketplace. And obviously, the gains that we can make with respect to Afghanistan on the ground and in your relationship will do a great deal to open up and fully allow that opportunity to blossom.
Finally, our partnership has to reflect the interconnectedness of this region. That means continuing to find avenues of cooperation between Pakistan and India on a full range of issues, including trade and counterterrorism. We continue to be deeply concerned by the recent spate of increased violence along the working boundary and the Line of Control. And I’ve said it before – including in India yesterday – we don’t say one thing in India and one thing here, believe me – we have a uniform concern about the region’s stability. And I’ll say it again now: It is profoundly in the interests of Pakistan and India to move this relationship forward. This is the hardest kind of work. It requires time and effort to overcome historical mistrust and enmities and to create a path to sustainable peace through dialogue. But there are plenty of places in the world where it has been proven to work.
Perhaps one of the greatest investments the United States ever made was in the rebuilding of the post-war world after World War II, where we invested immediately in Germany and in Japan, and today, Germany and Japan are two of the strongest allies not just of the United States, but of freedom, democracy, and the possibilities of the future.
So we need to work together to support a secure and a stable Afghanistan. President Ghani’s November visit to Islamabad, Prime Minister Sharif’s attendance at the London Conference in December – these were enormously important steps. They are great – they’re more than gestures. They are significant efforts at reconciliation and in building a relationship, and the recent visit to Kabul by two of Pakistan’s top military officers and the head of its intelligence service are extremely encouraging signs of what I hope will be a new era in the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We particularly welcome Pakistan’s support for Afghan-led reconciliation. Such a process is the surest way to reduce extremist violence and provide lasting peace and security. The United States will work hand-in-hand with you in order to try to advance that reconciliation.
Over time, we believe that economic engagement will help and advance this effort. And Pakistan and Afghanistan have already taken important steps towards an agreement on transit pricing for the landmark electricity transmission project known as CASA-1000. This progress is important and it must continue.
So as we conclude this Strategic Dialogue with an eye to the future, I am reminded of the word of your country’s founder, Quaid-i-Azam. In an address in 1948, he talked about the story of Pakistan, and he said simply: “The story of Pakistan, its struggle and its achievement, is the very story of great human ideals, struggling to survive in the face of great odds and difficulties.”
Pakistan’s story is still being written, and yes, great difficulties do still exist. But we also know that strong partnerships are one means by which even the toughest problems can be overcome. It is vital that we not underestimate what can be accomplished by building trust, expanding ties, and acting together in common purpose.
So I thank my good friend Sartaj and all of the team here assembled for the leadership that you are offering in that effort, and everyone at this side of the table, I can guarantee you, looks forward to making progress, looks forward to working with you throughout the next year and well beyond. Thank you, my friend.