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Support pledged for Afghan president

Updated June 16, 2015

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“There is an understanding here in Islamabad and in Kabul to prevent obstacles from tripping us over,” said Tariq Fatemi.
“There is an understanding here in Islamabad and in Kabul to prevent obstacles from tripping us over,” said Tariq Fatemi.

ISLAMABAD: The Prime Minister’s Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi has defended an intelligence cooperation accord struck recently with Afghanistan and pledged strong support for embattled Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“The MoU between the NDS and ISI is a proof of the distance we have covered,” he said in a speech on foreign policy at the Institute of Strategic Studies on Monday. The speech dwelt on the successes and challenges in external relations during the two years of the PML-N government.

He said the intelligence cooperation agreement, which has been derided in Kabul for being against Afghanistan’s interests, would provide a framework for much needed bilateral counterterrorism cooperation.

Referring to mutual distrust and acrimony of the past, Mr Fatemi said the “heavy burden” of history would continue to impede progress in the relations, but it was encouraging that the leadership of the two countries was headed in the right direction.

“There is an understanding here in Islamabad and in Kabul to prevent obstacles from tripping us over,” he said.

Mr Fatemi said Pakistan-Afghan cooperation was not just about counter-terrorism and security. A number of economic, infrastructure and connectivity projects were also taking shape, which would bear “visible and tangible” fruits.

In reply to a question about perceived political isolation of President Ghani because of Islamabad’s alleged failure to meet its commitments with regard to the Taliban, he clarified that Pakistan had only promised to help with reconciliation.

“We had, and may still have, some influence (with the Taliban). But we can’t pick people and take them to the table and make them sign on the dotted line. We can only play a marginal role. The Afghans will have to be in the driving seat,” he said.

Mr Fatemi said that although there were many who didn’t want the cooperative phase in the relationship to continue, the leadership was committed to making it succeed.

Mr Fatemi credited Mr Ghani for the improvement in relations and said his ‘national unity government’ had “injected a welcome dose of realism” and the Afghan president’s visit to Islamabad was instrumental in removing misgivings that had been clouding the ties.

“We’ll do everything possible to strengthen our ties with him and through him with the government of Afghanistan.”

INDIA: Mr Fatemi said that despite all the setbacks in ties with India, including last year’s cancellation of foreign secretaries’ talks, ceasefire violations along the Line of Control and Working Boundary, and the hostile statements coming out of Delhi, the government remained firmly stuck to the belief that the only way forward was in “sustainable and uninterrupted” dialogue.

He said the ratcheted up rhetoric by Indian leaders would not serve anyone’s purpose.

Hostile Indian statements, he said, would not make Pakistan compromise on its national security interests.

“In the field of diplomacy harsh statements and chest beating are not as effective as calm and sober reflection and nuanced interventions,” he said.

Mr Fatemi said that if India had any doubts or issues, it could have sat down and talked with Pakistan instead of indulging in sabre rattling.

He also called on “friends” in the international community to persuade India to revive dialogue with Pakistan.

The prime minister’s foreign policy aide criticised the Indian government’s claim of a cross-border raid against militant targets in Myanmar, saying it amounted to violation of the core principle in the United Nations charter of non-intervention.

In a reference to Indian Minister of State Rajyavardhan Rathore’s comment that the strike was meant to send a message to Pakistan and groups “harbouring terror intent towards India”, Mr Fatemi said: “Pakistan will never allow such a misadventure go without response.”

IRAN: Mr Fatemi parried a question regarding divergences with Iran on key regional issues and said “all is well” except for minor hiccups caused by border incidents.

He said Pakistan had no qualms with India’s expanding relations with Iran and its investment in the upcoming Chabahar port, which is seen here as rival to the Gwadar port.

“It’s good if the investment leads to progress and prosperity,” he said.

He said Pakistan was keenly awaiting the finalisation of Iran’s agreement with the world powers on its nuclear programme because it would open up avenues of cooperation between the two countries, especially in the energy sector.

CHINA: Mr Fatemi said the already “exemplary ties” with China had grown as manifested by the signing of dozens of cooperation agreements and launch of the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in April.

“The kind of relations that are envisaged would transform the landscape of this country,” he said.

Mr Fatemi said Pakistan and China were visualizing a situation that was not only beneficial for their populations but culminated in a win-win situation for the region at large.

He said defence ties with China were strong and more cooperation projects like the co-production of JF-17 fighter jets were in the pipeline.

US: The prime minister’s aide hailed “stability” in ties with the United States and said “mistrust and doubts” were the story of “distant past”.

“Calls of do more are no more there” and the “relations are progressing well”, he said.

The new found Pakistan-US understanding, he said, had emerged because of institutional arrangements -- a reference to the bilateral strategic dialogue that was revived after the PML-N government came into office.

RUSSIA: Mr Fatemi said a memorandum of understanding on defence cooperation signed with Russia last year would provide an opening for acquisition of military hardware.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2015

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