Remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry With Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Advisor on Foreign Affairs On the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue

February 29, 2016

Secretary Kerry: Well, welcome to the State Department. Welcome to the Ben Franklin Room. We’re delighted to have you all here for a very important dialogue in an important relationship. And Sartaj, thank you so much for coming here today to take part in the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, and I’m grateful for the level of expertise that is represented here. We expect to have some frank and very important discussions. This is a chance to reaffirm our commitment to a very strong bilateral, enduring relationship that is, in the end, based on mutual respect but also on mutual interests.

Before we begin our dialogue, let me just take a minute to acknowledge the victory of “A Girl in the River,” which won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject last night, and directed by a Pakistani-Canadian. This film told the remarkable story of a very courageous young woman who survived an attempt at an “honor killing” by her father and uncle. And yet even more remarkable was after the initial screening, Prime Minister Sharif pledged to change laws that allow such barbaric practices and murders – and that is a sign of how a great work of cinema can shine light on a subject, on real-world challenges, and it can actually promote positive change.

So we gather for our dialogue in the shadow of last month’s attack at the Bacha Khan University, and it took the lives of nearly two dozen students, 17 students. As we said in the tragedy’s aftermath, the United States condemns such a heinous act of terrorism, and we will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Pakistan and the Pakistani people in their brave fight against violent extremism.

This latest assault really speaks to a larger point: there is a reason that the terrorists targeted a university. It’s the same reason that they decided to murder children at the Army Public School in Peshawar in December of 2014, and it’s why their gunmen shot Malala Yousafzai on a school bus, and it’s why so many of their attacks are directed against teachers and against students. Because these murderers want to halt Pakistan’s future even before it begins. They’re against knowledge. They don’t want people to make up their own minds or have the right and the ability to be able to learn, read history, read literature, and be able to decide for themselves. They want to deprive young people of Pakistan of the knowledge that they need to compete in a global economy and to build a strong and prosperous and free society.

So that is why it matters so much that Bacha Khan University and the Army School have both re-opened and that Pakistanis have made it clear they will not be intimidated or denied the right to build a future of their own design and to sustain it for generations to come. In that effort, they can absolutely count on the continued friendship and support of the United States.

Now, in the nearly seven decades since Pakistan achieved independence, it’s fair to say that the ties between our countries have sometimes been strained. But we have always recovered, because the people of Pakistan and the United States share a fundamental desire for stability, the hope for peace, and support for regional and global economic development.

These shared interests led us in 2013 to reinvigorate our strategic dialogue, with a focus not only on mutual security but also on strengthening democratic institutions and fostering long-term economic growth.

As we will discuss today, our nations are committed to combatting terrorism wherever it is and whenever it endangers the lives of innocent families and communities. As long as that threat remains, protecting our people is going to be at the top of our agenda.

Yet to reach its potential, we also have to build a relationship that is multifaceted. We can and we should work together on a range of shared priorities, including trade, investment, education and energy, law enforcement and regional stability.

Expanding and deepening our relationship has long been a personal commitment of mine. I think you know that. In the Senate, I was privileged to join with my colleague Dick Lugar and with Representative Howard Berman in sponsoring a law that was aimed at lasting cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan – between businesses and universities and citizens in addition to our governments. That’s basically what friends do, and that’s what friendship means. It’s also what a good bilateral relationship in a very complicated world means.

Now, our strategic dialogue is totally in keeping with this kind of broad-based partnership and designed to advance it. And before we delve into greater detail throughout this day, I want to highlight a couple of the essential areas in which our working groups are active.

On economic and financial issues, we have a joint plan to expand trade over five years in a way that will help to make Pakistan’s markets more attractive to foreign investors. As one aspect of this, we’re going to be partnering with the Pakistani Government to expand women’s participation in the workplace. Because studies have repeatedly shown that women, given the opportunity they deserve, help an economy to grow.

On regional security, we’re going to continue efforts to promote stability and defeat those who foment extremism and violence. In this connection, the United States appreciates Pakistan’s support for efforts to promote reconciliation with Afghanistan.

Cooperation along Pakistan’s borders is absolutely essential. We recognize the extraordinary and real sacrifices that Pakistan’s military, especially in Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the ongoing missions in North Waziristan, and the United States has pledged $250 million to help rebuild the communities of persons who have been displaced by the fighting in these operations.

We’ll also continue to coordinate with Pakistan on the overall counter-terrorist strategy, and we recognize that every country can do more to intensify to destroy and defeat violent radical extremists.

We commend Pakistan for its whole-of-government approach to implement the National Action Plan and eliminate the ability of militant groups to recruit, to finance, and to incite violence. And we welcome Pakistan’s commitment not to differentiate between terrorist groups in the implementation of this strategy – groups like the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba that seek to undermine Pakistan’s efforts to foster strong, positive relations with its neighbors. In the end, a group like the Haqqani group or Lashkar-e-Tayyeba or Jaish-e-Mohammad – all of these groups are literally stealing the sovereignty of a nation. And they’re stealing the future of a nation. And it is important for us to stand up to them.

On nonproliferation, nuclear safety is of obvious concern to both our countries, and I expect that we will continue to discuss the obligations of being a responsible state with nuclear weapons in the coming year. As you know, the United States of America once had 50,000 warheads pointing at another country or entity, the Soviet Union. And the Soviet Union had 50,000 pointing at us. And it took two presidents – President Gorbachev and President Reagan – in a meeting to decide that that didn’t make sense. And we have moved in the completely opposite direction. And today, Russia and the United States are operating under a treaty that has about 1,500 or so nuclear warheads, and we are seeking to reduce that. So we’re moving in the other direction. And I think it’s important for Pakistan to really process that reality and put that front and center in its policy. And we look forward to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s participation in the Nuclear Security Summit next month.

We’re also working together to make Pakistan’s energy sector more market-based and its power supply more stable and sustainable. To date, United States assistance has helped to add 1,750 megawatts to the country’s electric grid, benefitting nearly 26 million Pakistanis. And through our new U.S.-Pakistan Clean Energy Partnership, we hope – with help from the private sector – to add another 3,000 megawatts from clean energy sources.

Finally, perhaps no area of cooperation is more critical to Pakistan’s long-term success than our cooperation in education, science, and technology. On this front, our universities are collaborating on research and curriculum development. And our countries’ experts are working together at the Centers for Advanced Studies to spur innovation in water, in agriculture, and other sectors. And we’re also doubling our joint funding for high-level R&D. And our nations are partners in the First Lady’s “Let Girls Learn” initiative, and that is going to give an additional 200,000 Pakistani girls a chance to enroll and stay in school.

So it is fair to say that we have a very full agenda here today and in the days ahead. It is defined by the immense challenges that will shape the future of Pakistan and our relationship, but I want to emphasize these are challenges that we can absolutely best meet working together.

As Prime Minister Sharif stated during his visit here last October: “A close and enduring partnership between Pakistan and the U.S. is a strategic imperative for achieving lasting peace and stability in our region and beyond.” And it’s in that spirit that I ask us today to try to move our partnership forward in the months to come and pursue peace and prosperity for both of our countries.

I thank you, and I’m now very pleased to yield the floor to my good friend and colleague Sartaj Aziz. Thank you, Sartaj.

MR AZIZ: Thank you very much. Secretary Kerry, distinguished members of the delegation, ladies and gentlemen, may I begin by expressing my deep appreciation to you, Secretary Kerry, and your team for convening the sixth ministerial review of the Pakistan-U.S. Strategic Dialogue process. Your personal commitment to strengthening Pakistan-U.S. relationship over the years is widely acknowledged and respected in Pakistan.

As you just reminded us, Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act and the revival of the Strategic Dialogue framework in 2013 are outstanding examples of your contribution. You have certainly helped to transform the Pakistan-U.S. relation into a mutually beneficial partnership. I thank you on behalf of the people in Government of Pakistan for your role in rebuilding and reenergizing this partnership.

I am confident today’s session will provide the opportunity to take stock of our relations in the light of the detailed presentation on each of the six working groups to move forward. This session also afford the opportunity to review the broader challenges and regional developments that have a significant impact on our bilateral relations.

When I came here in January 2014 for the ministerial review, I put forth a few overarching principle, which in my opinion underpin the foundation of our relationship. I’d emphasize regarding privacy to the element of mutual trust at all levels and amongst all key institutions to build strategic convergence instead of remaining captive to isolated technical differences. The trust factor therefore remains critical to our enduring partnership.

Secondly, I’d underscore the need to look at Pakistan in its own right. Fostering a long-term partnership would necessitate exclusive focus on Pakistan’s inherent strengths and opportunity.

Thirdly, I’ll explain the imperative of appreciating and respecting Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns in the region as the U.S. moves forward with this Asia pivot policy in pursuit of its own national security objectives. I would use the yardstick of these three elements in sharing my assessment of the significant changes that have occurred in Pakistan in the past two and a half years.

In the interest of brevity, of course, I will essentially touch on four interrelated issues: Pakistan’s sincere and consistent effort for a peaceful neighborhood; the consolidation of democracy; economic revival; and finally, countering terrorism and violent extremism.

Let me begin with the issues of regional dynamics. We are all aware of Pakistan’s complex geopolitical history. Instead of being viewed through the lenses borrowed from East or West, Pakistan must be afforded its own strategic space. We believe we have earned this over a history of result-oriented relationship.

We all recognize the wide-ranging and complex problems confronting Afghanistan. Regrettably, there is tendency to blame Pakistan in somewhat simplistic fashion for most of the difficulties and challenges that engage Afghanistan. We are blamed to be pursuing a duplicitous policy. This narrative revives the unpleasant memory of the past when our relations had dipped to perhaps its lowest levels in recent years. Nothing can be further from the truth than to hold Pakistan responsible for the Afghan problems. Who would like to set one’s own neighbor on fire with the hope to save one’s backyard? Pakistan has suffered the most due to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. Actions taken by Pakistan against terrorist group of all shades and colors in Afghanistan have been unprecedented. At this critical juncture, we have to avoid blame game, admit mistakes committed by all, and closely cooperate and coordinate our respective policies.

I’d therefore like to highlight some recent developments that demonstrate Pakistan’s sincere commitment to transform this relationship with Afghanistan. This is a vital area of strategic convergence between Pakistan and the U.S. Today there is growing consensus that an Afghan-led and an Afghan-all peace and reconciliation process is the best way to achieve lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. After the intense deliberation among the relevant stakeholders, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group – consisting of Pakistan, U.S., China, and Afghanistan – has unanimously agreed on a roadmap to take the reconciliation process forward. It has elements that would address U.S. and Afghan concerns related to groups involved in violence against the U.S. troops and against Afghanistan, besides that wanting the reconciliation process.

In coming days and week, all members of the Quadrilateral process will intensify their efforts toward achieving a broader national consensus in support of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. It is our expectation that countries in the region until recently opposed to the reconciliation process will shun their objections and support the efforts of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group to help the Afghan Government bring peace and stability to their country. With so much capital expended on this process, we cannot afford another setback.

As an all-important part of our policy of peaceful neighborhood, we have reached out to India. We believe the resolution of all outstanding issues, including the Kashmir dispute, is possible through resumption of full-scale and uninterrupted dialogue with India. We would also propose a mechanism to address our respective concern on terrorism. The Indian participation in the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad last December and announcement to start the comprehensive dialogue are positive developments that augur well for peace and stability in South Asia.

Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Islamabad in December was welcomed by most in Pakistan. Here I would like to express our gratitude to you and President Obama for your consistent support to the revival of the Pakistan-India dialogue. It is unfortunate that the agreement on resuming the dialogue process was disrupted by the attack on Pathankot airbase on 2nd January. Pakistan has taken some very important steps in the aftermath of this incident. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the Indian prime minister immediately after this attack and assured of Pakistan’s support in the investigation. Since then, national security advisors are maintaining frequent contacts. A case has been registered, and the special investigation team is likely to visit in the next few days. We, therefore, hope that the foreign secretary-level talks will be scheduled very soon.

Secretary Kerry, coming to the second element of our strategic convergence that you also emphasize, you will share our satisfaction that the democratic processes and institutions are developing stronger roots in Pakistan. And respect for the rule of law is growing. Today’s democratic Pakistan is strengthened by an independent judiciary, a vibrant media, and a diverse civil society.

Coming to the third aspect, I’m happy to report that Pakistan economy is showing clear signs of recovery and growth. Pakistan’s economic recovery has been widely and repeatedly appreciated by the international rating agencies. Improved economic indicators, rising investment flows, and a resurgent stock market led the World Bank president to state recently, “There is much the world can learn from Pakistan.”

In August 2015, Forbes magazine recognized Pakistan’s potential as a global turnaround story and a country poised to be a strategic partner for the U.S. We have no doubt that economically stronger and politically stable Pakistan can become a reliable partner of the U.S. towards achieving the shared dream of a peaceful, prosperous, and interconnected South Asia.

I am confident that the realization of mega-projects such as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, TAPI, CASA-1000 will enhance regional connectivity in both north-south and east-west corridors. It will ensure trade facilitation geared to shared prosperity in the region. We are confident the U.S. will continue to be a important partner in helping Pakistan achieve its national priorities for promoting peace, prosperity, and greater economic integration.

Secretary Kerry, we have been discussing with you and your colleagues and – the importance of enhanced market access and expanding bilateral trade. The overall volume of trade between our two countries has been virtually stagnant for the past five years. In fact, it has gone down in real terms. As the security situation in Pakistan improves and the energy shortage are overcome, opportunities for trade will improve. I, therefore, believe now is the time when the U.S., as a key ally and a close partner, would also help by extending preferential access to Pakistani exports in the U.S. market, at least for some products. This would go a long way in helping Pakistan turn around its economy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the world is witness to Pakistan’s huge sacrifices in fighting terrorism over the last decade. Our resolve to finish and win this fight remains unshakeable. As our military and low enforcement authorities are squarely addressing regional and global security concerns through simultaneous operations in FATA and elsewhere in the country, our strategy to eliminate the terrorist networks and defeat their extremist ideology is all-encompassing. We are focusing on three fronts that include both kinetic and non-kinetic actions.

First, through our military operations (inaudible), we are determined to deny space to any terrorist groups to plan and launch violent activities from Pakistani side. After almost a year and a half since the launch of Zarb-e-Azb, it’s probably the most successful story in the history of counterterrorism operation. The most treacherous and unreachable areas in FATA, especially in North Waziristan, are now under the reach of the state. The terrorists have either been killed, captured, or flushed out of their havens.

Secondly, in line with the priorities of the National Action Plan, we are taking all necessary measures to launch intelligence-based operation and choke the funding sources of terrorist organization. So far, more than one million rupees’ worth of accounts have been frozen by the State Bank of Pakistan belonging to terrorist and extremist organization. Moreover, through concerted action by the relevant authorities, media visibility and public outreach of the proscribed organization is gradually shrinking.

Thirdly, multiple actions are underway to defeat the extremist agenda or propaganda of the terrorist organization through a counter-narrative strategy. We are mindful that the most important aspect of a successful strategy is to win the support and trust of local communities. In this context, we are engaging the religious scholars and community leaders to establish close contacts with young people in their communities, mosque, and schools, and discuss issues that provoke radical narratives and misunderstanding. Recently, in a huge gathering of religious scholars in Islamabad where eminent leaders from across the Muslim world participated, a comprehensive fatwa was issued declaring ISIL a terrorist group. Similarly, this vast array of Muslim scholars pronounced that killing innocent civilians was not permissible in Islam.

As we marched forward on the path of success in our CT operation, we have consistently appreciated the U.S. support in enabling our capacity to fight terrorism. We see this contribution as a justifiable investment by the United States towards regional security and for its own security. To this end, we strongly believe the U.S. continued participation in arrangement meant to enhance our counterterrorism capacity will not only help Pakistan but also advance the U.S. interest.

We are grateful to Secretary Kerry for your recent positive testimony on the Hill. We appreciate the public assessment of the U.S. leadership in response to congressman inquiries that Pakistan use the F-16s effectively against the terrorists in the region. The prospective sale of F-16s will strengthen Pakistan capabilities to successfully continue these vital operations for our mutual benefit and stability in the region.

Secretary Kerry, you will recall that during our dialogue, our two side had also emphasized the need for building convergences and positive messaging. You have made concerted efforts in briefing our parliament on areas of positive contribution by the United States. This in turn help in building a positive public view of the U.S. in Pakistan. Although we see some efforts by the Administration to keep Congress informed, I believe more can be done to bring Congress fully in picture about the positive steps taken by Pakistan to further our mutual interest and the very significant change in ground realities that has occurred in the past two and a half years. In my view, it is equally important to explore other specific areas of cooperation that could either be addressed within the ambit of existing working groups or consider a newer mechanism if deemed appropriate.

In conclusion, I would like to propose the following elements that could be considered for charting out the way forward towards an enduring and multifaceted relationship between our two country. First, I see a lot of mutual benefit in taking forward the vision of our leadership to transform this relationship as people-centered. The six working groups should explore all avenues with regard to developing institutional linkages in different areas currently dealt in their respective purview.

Second, expanding cooperation for announcing bilateral trade and investment cannot be overemphasized. I would urge the two sides to sit together to work out a mutually acceptable framework to ensure enhanced market access for Pakistani products in the U.S.

Third, creating opportunities for the talented Pakistani youth in acquiring both educational and entrepreneurial skills, as you just emphasized, from the state-of-the-art U.S. universities and institution should also be our mutual priority.

Fourth, as Pakistan is a water-deficient country, I believe it will be extremely important to explore ways and means to address the water issues in the existing working group of energy. Needless to point out that water scarcity in Pakistan could negatively impact our regional stability, with global ramification.

Fifth, our defense partnership has been a key pillar of our overall relationship. A structured and mutually agreed platform will help in making our defense cooperation serve our enduring common interests.

Sixth, U.S. cooperation and support for more efficient border management between Afghanistan and Pakistan will help check illegal movement of terrorists, criminals, and smugglers.

Seventh, after the rehabilitation stage, Pakistan will undertake some major program of reconstruction for temporary displaced persons in the tribal areas. We hope our allies, including the United States, will supplement our efforts in this regard.

Finally, our engagement on nonproliferation and strategic stability will continue, and Pakistan hopes to see greater U.S. understanding of Pakistan’s security concern and its desire to contribute actively. As a mainstream nuclear power, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is looking forward to attending the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington next month. Thank you.

Secretary Kerry: Well, thank you, Sartaj. That’s – between us, I think we’ve put a good summary of the issues on the table and given our teams a great outline to begin to dig into. With that, we’d ask the media – if you folks would at this point leave our teams to be able to conduct a private discussion, we’d appreciate it very much. And then you and I – (ends in progress).