THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE, WASHINGTON, 21st OCTOBER 2013: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif landed in Washington late Sunday night, kicking off his four-day trip to the United States, the highlights of which will include a much-hyped meeting with US President Barack Obama.
The premier will also meet US Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of his meeting with the American president.
“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif received a warm, red-carpet welcome from US diplomats upon reaching Washington today (Sunday),” Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani told Daily Expressin the US capital.
“He [the prime minister] will hold a one-on-one meeting with President Obama to discuss a host of issues, including regional security and energy matters,” he said. The two heads of state will particularly focus on the situation in Afghanistan in the wake of the 2014 withdrawal of US forces from the war torn country, he added.
Jilani termed Prime Minister Nawaz’s meeting with the President Obama of ‘utmost importance’ given that both countries were key partners in the global war on terror.
Political observers in Washington are optimistic that Pakistan-US ties will head towards improvement once the two heads of state sit down together. The two countries will still have to deal with a range of contentious issues, such as the CIA-led drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas, allegations of cross-border militancy and concerns about post-2014 Afghanistan.
Both Pakistani and US experts on South Asia say the two sides must build trust as they enter a new phase in their relationship. Islamabad’s support for the Afghan reconciliation process and the availability of its overland routes are considered crucial for the smooth withdrawal of American combat troops from landlocked Afghanistan.
In order to reflect and encourage the improvement in relations, the Obama administration has recently moved to expedite the release of more than $1 billion in previously approved military and economic assistance. Washington has also promised to reimburse the Pakistani military’s counterterrorism expenses.
Both countries have their own concerns regarding Afghanistan. Pakistan, in particular, worries whether post-war Afghanistan will be stable enough to prosper.
According to various estimates, 1.5 million to 3 million Afghan refugees currently live in Pakistan. Already struggling with billions of dollars in debt and a stagnant economy, Pakistan is ill-equipped to handle a new refugee crisis.
If security tops Obama’s agenda, the economy is Nawaz’s biggest worry.