About the Author: Nadia Sheikh is an intern in the Office of Pakistan Affairs in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.
When I began my internship four weeks ago, there were faint whispers of a possible upcoming U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in late March or early April. With the confirmation of dates less than a week later, everyone in the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Office of Pakistan Affairs, as well as countless other offices, began an intense dash to organize the event, set up travel and security plans for the Pakistani delegation, and hone ideas for the plenary and policy breakout sessions. At first, I was a stranger to the long workdays that many at State must work; the Sunday before the meeting, I too spent the day at the office, preparing for escort logistics, which was one of my responsibilities for the dialogue.
When the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue opened on March 24, both countries were optimistic about their vision for the two day event. As she spoke in front of the fireplace of the Ben Franklin room and stately U.S. and Pakistani flags, Secretary Clinton described the dialogue as the “start of something new -- a new phase in our partnership, with a new focus and a renewed commitment to work together to achieve the goals we share: stability, prosperity, opportunity for the people of both Pakistan and the United States.”
Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi echoed similar sentiments to the audience of U.S. officials, Pakistani delegates, and the press. As an observer of this event, and as an American of Pakistani descent, the energy and positive tone of the event was not lost on me. In fact, I was taken aback by the cooperative demeanor and willingness of both the United States and Pakistani delegations in laying out their ideas for the next stage in U.S.-Pakistani relations, a relationship that has been marked by ups and downs in its history.
Equally important, the dialogue wasn't just about "talking the talk” -- the delegations met immediately after the opening session. Through sessions on agriculture, defense and security, economic development and finance, social issues, energy and water, and communications, the participants constructed deliverable goals on the issues that are crucial to both countries. These objectives included agriculture infrastructure assistance through a $30 million allocation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food for Progress program; a proposal for a Defense Planning Exchange in May and a Defense Consultative Group during July or August 2010; a pledge for the United States to work with Pakistan to make progress in the timely implementation of tax system and energy financing reforms; continued and expanded collaboration on improving quality and access to education; cooperation on a range of technological advances to include information technologies and telecommunications such as eLearning, eGovernance, telemedicine, and mobile banking; and mapping out progress on natural gas development and agendas for future discussions on water. On top of these deliverables, a letter of intent was signed to upgrade major road infrastructure in Northwest Pakistan, as well as implementation agreements for three thermal power station rehabilitation projects that will aid in combating electricity shortages in the country. The approval of flight access for Pakistan International Airlines to Chicago, via Barcelona, will also undoubtedly benefit Pakistani and American business travelers and families who want a more accessible route to Pakistan.
In these past few days, the desire to build better linkages politically, socially, and economically between Pakistan and the United States is apparent. As someone who has an interest in a successful partnership of both countries, I can only hope that what emerges out of these next few months, and the future series of talks in Islamabad, will deliver on these significant investments to the benefit of both countries.