WASHINGTON: A senior US official has told Congress that the United States has held candid discussions with Pakistan on its short-range nuclear weapons and Pakistan is willing to engage with the US on this issue.

Richard Olson, US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, also told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the Obama administration was “not negotiating a one-two-three agreement — a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Pakistan.”

“We’ve had a very candid discussion with the Pakistanis about some of the concerns that we have, including about shorter-range nuclear systems. And Pakistan has been prepared to engage with us in those — in those discussions,” he added.

Take a look: ‘Pakistan has built low-yield nuclear weapons to counter Indian aggression’

Mr Olson said Pakistan was well aware of the extremist and insurgent threats to the security of its nuclear weapons and had a professional and dedicated security force to defend them.

“As with all nuclear-capable states, we have urged Pakistan to restrain its nuclear weapons and missile development,” he said.

“(We also) stressed the importance of avoiding any developments that might invite increased risk to nuclear safety, security, or strategic stability.”

Pakistani officials reject such concerns as unfounded and say that the country was forced to make tactical nuclear weapons to counter India’s so-called cold-start theory.

Mr Olson said that while the US and Pakistan did not always see eye to eye on every issue, this relationship was vital to the national security of the United States.

Mr Olson, who was the US ambassador in Islamabad before he moved back to Washington last month, said that despite many challenges, “Pakistan will continue to be an important partner for the United States for the foreseeable future, particularly in light of our enduring presence in Afghanistan.”

Mr Olson also urged US lawmakers not to overlook the significant progress made in the last few years. “During the past two years, we can point to progress, however imperfect, made across the economic and security sectors,” he said.

Mr Olson acknowledged that Pakistan had reasserted their sovereign authority over North Waziristan. “Miramshah, which was the headquarters of, amongst others, the Haqqani network and the Pakistani Taliban — completely cleared. I’ve been to downtown Miramshah,” he said.

The lawmakers, however, claimed that since Sept 11, 2011, Washington had provided $30 billion in economic and military aid to a country they believed was still supporting terrorist networks.

The committee’s chairman, Congressman Ed Royce, alleged that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal was on track to become the third largest.

“Its addition of small tactical nuclear weapons in recent years is even more troubling. This is a country which spends a fifth of its budget on the military … but under 2.5 per cent on education,” he said.

Mr Royce said that while Congress had withheld some military assistance to Pakistan because of its concerns about the Haqqani network, the State Department was seeking more arms for Islamabad, which might or might not be used against the militants.

But Ambassador Olson assured him that the US had “a very stringent end-use monitoring” system for its high-tech security cooperation with Pakistan.

Responding to a question, he also emphasised the need for better ties between India and Pakistan.

“We hope the recent high-level talks between Indian and Pakistani officials and the announcement of the resumption of formal dialogue will be used to reduce tensions and increase ties between the two nations,” he said.

Congressman Brad Sherman, a Democrat, asked Mr Olson to communicate to Pakistan the need to act like a true partner or someone in Congress would push for eliminating all US aid to the country.

But another Democrat, Eliot Engel, pointed out that Pakistan itself had suffered the most from terrorism and more than 50,000 Pakistanis were killed by terrorists since 2003.

Chairman Royce said he was not surprised to learn that Tashfeen Malik, the female attacker in the recent San Bernardino, California, shooting, had studied at a Pakistani religious school.

“Pakistan maintains an infrastructure of hate,” Congressman Royce said. “Thousands of Deobandi madrassas — funded with Gulf state money — teach intolerant, hate-filled rhetoric that inspires the foot soldiers of jihadist terrorism,” he said.

‘I’ve made three trips to Islamabad to press this issue. Pakistan must do the work to register schools, and close those creating new generations of radicals.”

Ambassador Olson said the Obama administration shared lawmakers’ concerns but also informed them that Pakistan was addressing the problem as part of its National Action Plan.

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2015

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