Secret guest at KLF was US Ambassador Richard Olson

Curiously vague in the KLF programme, the Sunday session titled ‘The US-Pakistan relationship: will it endure?’ listed Dr Ishrat Husain as the moderator but the panellist’s space was left blank. As the session began, US ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson entered the stage to Dr Hussain’s introduction of his mysterious appearance as an apparent ‘last-minute surprise addition’.

Since over a decade the US-Pakistan relationship has depended greatly on the Afghanistan situation, a great deal of the session was a continuation of Saturday’s ‘Afghanistan 2014: consequences for Pakistan’ session. In stark contrast to the latter with seven panellists, was this one-man session on the long but tumultuous relationship between the two countries.

“If Afghanistan is no longer of interest, then where does that leave Pakistan?” asked Dr Husain. Olson responded that these matters were discussed in the recent US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in Washington between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Pakistan Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz. For the future of the relationship he said, “Will it endure? I think it will.”

For the Afghanistan National Security Forces, Olson insisted that they were capable of handling the Taliban threat, described it as “the most capable army that Afghanistan has ever had.” As for the future of the US within the Afghanistan region, he clarified that the NATO and the US forces, “contingent on the Afghanistan invitation” will not be withdrawing but rather lessening their presence within the region. “We will remain present as a residual force.” Upon the issue of Pakistan’s negative pereception of the US and vice versa, Olson agreed that that was an aspect of the relationship that did need improving. Dr Husain highlighted possibilities of increasing trade between the two countries. “In the spirit of complete candour, I must insist, this is an area we need to work on,” replied Olson.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2014.

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