ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON: The United States spelt out on Sunday the steps it expected Pakistan to undertake for dealing with the Haqqani network and stressed that these were crucial for Islamabad’s relations with both Washington and Kabul.
The message, described by a senior US official as frank, was conveyed during US National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s visit to Islamabad for delivering an invitation to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for a meeting with President Obama at the White House on Oct 22.
“In Islamabad today, discussed how to deepen cooperation to tackle shared priorities. Encouraged Pakistan to advance regional peace and stability,” Ms Rice tweeted as she left after completing her trip and said that she “conveyed President Obama’s invitation to PM Sharif to visit the White House in October to continue discussions”.
In a statement the Prime Minister’s Office quoted Mr Sharif as having told her that he “was looking forward to his visit to the US in October this year as an opportunity to further strengthen the ties between the two countries”.
The sense emerging from Ms Rice’s meetings with PM Sharif, Foreign Affairs and National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz and Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif was that counter-terrorism cooperation and more particularly Washington’s perception that Pakistan was not adequately targeting the Haqqani network in the Zarb-i-Azb military operation against militant and terrorist groups in North Waziristan would dominate the agenda awaiting the prime minister in Washington.
The US had doubts about Pakistan taking on the Haqqani network since the start of Zarb-i-Azb last year, but it became more vocal about those concerns after deadly attacks in Kabul earlier this month which, it says, were carried out by the terrorist group (Haqqani network).
Zarb-i-Azb entered its final phase this month as the army launched its ground offensive in Shawal valley.
“Ms Rice expressed concern over the deadly attacks in Kabul, which were perpetrated by the Haqqani network. This is absolutely unacceptable. … We look forward to Pakistan working to reduce this threat,” a senior US official said in a briefing on the visit of the national security adviser.
The official said Pakistan had been conveyed the “specific measures” it was needed to take for stopping the attacks. Ms Rice also explored how the US could collaborate with Pakistan in dealing with the Haqqanis.
The official would not, however, elaborate what steps Pakistan was asked to take.
The US has been gradually increasing pressure on Pakistan on the issue of Haqqani network. Even before the recent attacks in Kabul Pakistan was told by the US that the defence secretary would not be certifying to Congress that the North Waziristan military operation had downgraded the Haqqani network. The move would block disbursement of about $300 million of the Coalition Support Fund. The non-certification was always expected to cloud bilateral ties that were thought to have stabilised over the past couple of years.
Stressing the importance of Pakistan acting against the Haqqani network, the official said the issue had “developed into a key point of regional friction” and “addressing this challenge will be imperative for Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours and with Washington, especially given the recent upsurge in violence in Kabul and the Taliban’s bloody campaign this fighting season in Afghanistan”.
Ms Rice also spoke to her Pakistani interlocutors about downturn in their relations with Kabul after the uptick in violence in Afghanistan this month and the future of the now stalled peace talks with Taliban.
The official said the US was hopeful about the resumption of contacts between Pakistan and Afghanistan for addressing the issues between them so that they could return to “positive climate” that existed over the past few months.
The US believes that death of Taliban chief Mullah Omar created opportunities for peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan.
“Ms Rice noted that Pakistan should continue to work constructively to take advantage of the death of Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership transition. They discussed ways that Pakistan, in coordination with Kabul, could further support the Afghan-led reconciliation process at this critical juncture,” the official said.
Pakistan’s aggravating tensions with India and the spike in violence along the Line of Control and the Working Boundary also featured in Ms Rice’s meetings in Islamabad.
“We are interested in hearing from Pakistan about their thoughts and views about addressing the situation,” the official said.
MEETINGS AT FO & GHQ: About Ms Rice’s meeting with Sartaj Aziz, the Foreign Office spokesman said: “Wide-ranging discussions were held on the regional situation, especially in the wake of emerging security environment in Afghanistan and current stalemate in Pakistan-India dialogue process.”
Discussions, the FO spokesman said, were also held on broader areas of cooperation and preparations for the forthcoming visit of the prime minister to the US.
A military spokesman said in a statement on Ms Rice’s meeting with Chief of the Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif: “During the meeting, matters of mutual interest, including security situation in the region, were discussed. Susan Rice acknowledged and appreciated Pakistan Army’s sincere efforts and sacrifices in the war against terrorism.”
In Washington, the United States hopes that Prime Minister Sharif’s visit will “further strengthen the US-Pakistani relationship”, said Ned Price, spokesperson for the US National Security Council, which operates from the White House.
He was speaking about NSA Susan Rice’s visit to Pakistan.
This was the first visit by a US national security adviser to Pakistan since 2010, when the then adviser, Gen James L. Jones, had met former president Asif Ali Zardari. Former CIA director Leon Panetta had also accompanied Gen Jones. Their discussions also focused on the security situation in the region, the shared terrorist threat and fight against extremists.
In her meeting with civil society leaders, Ms Rice commended their work in support of human rights, development and civil liberties in Pakistan and affirmed continued strong US support for their invaluable efforts, the White House said.
At a news briefing in Washington, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that Afghanistan had many neighbours and the US wanted Kabul to have friendly relations with all neighbours, including Pakistan, India and China.
“I think everybody in the international community could benefit from an Afghanistan that is secure and stable and prosperous, and our message to the other partners is the same as it’s always been, which is we want to make sure that we’re all pulling on the same oars here to get Afghanistan to that better future,” he said.
Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2015