ISLAMABAD: Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz is not very hopeful about normalisation of ties with India and progress in the Afghan reconciliation process — the two issues that have a strong bearing on the country’s overall external relations.

“Prospects of the [Afghan] peace process are not good. It would all now depend on the ground situation in Afghanistan,” Mr Aziz said at a foreign policy briefing session held for journalists on Monday.

He believed that elimination of Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a drone attack last month sabotaged the peace dialogue. “How can his successor now be asked to join the peace process?” he asked and added that there had been no signal from the Taliban as yet to suggest that they were preparing to move in this direction.

Some groups of the Taliban, he speculated, might consider the peace option if they failed to get major successes on the battleground.


Rouhani was right in saying that Kulbushan wasn’t discussed in his meeting with Gen Raheel


He at the same time noted that there were divisions within Afghanistan about engaging the Taliban in a peace process and lack of clarity about how Kabul wanted to take the initiative forward.

The adviser said that Pakistan could not take full responsibility for bringing the Taliban to the table, but could use “whatsoever influence” it had with the insurgent group to facilitate the process.

He, however, again emphasised that no one else could substitute Pakistan as far as the role it could play for reconciliation in Afghanistan was concerned.

Mr Aziz said Afghans blamed Pakistan for their problems because of a historical baggage, but failed to recognise the major shift in its policy on Afghanistan after 2013 under which it had been decided to expand relations with Kabul in all spheres and be more mindful about its concerns.

About the oft-repeated allegation by Afghanistan and the United States of not adequately acting against the Afghan Haqqani network’s alleged sanctuaries in Pakistan, he said there was no difference of objective and it was rather a matter of sequencing and timing.

Border management, he said, was one element of addressing those concerns and Pakistan would continue with it being a security concern. “Moreover, we do not require anyone’s approval for something we are doing inside our territory,” he maintained.

He believed that a new coordination mechanism between Pakistan and Afghanistan, comprising their foreign ministers and national security advisers — agreed upon during his talks with Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani in Tashkent on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting — would help address those concerns.

Technical teams, which will include senior military officials, would assist the coordination mechanism with contentious issues like the positioning of border posts in Angoor Ada and Ghulam Khan.

The new mechanism, Mr Aziz said, would substitute an unimplemented 2012 border coordination agreement.

Responding to a question about the absence of the word ‘border’ from the press statement issued after his meeting with Mr Rabbani, he said, Pakistan wanted to decouple border management from Afghanistan’s political narrative about the border.

“Border management is an immediate need … that is our priority. Moreover, border is not an issue for us, which we would like to negotiate,” he emphasised.

India

Speaking about ties with India, the adviser sounded sceptical about any progress towards normalisation in the near future and instead called for managing the situation so that tensions would not grow.

“Their narrative has remained unchanged. They do not want to give us credit [for our actions against terrorism] and keep an excuse for not starting dialogue,” he said.

The problem, he said, was that India wanted normalisation on its terms, which was not acceptable for Pakistan.

He said Pakistan would not back down from its principled stance on talks with India.

Pakistan has been insisting that talks should be held on a whole range of eight issues identified for bilateral dialogue, whereas India wants an exclusive focus on terrorism.

“If no major improvement takes place, we should manage the situation and our minimum objective should be to prevent tensions from growing,” he suggested.

US

The adviser’s assessment was that relationship with the US was moving in the right direction despite recent setbacks, which led to cancellation of an F-16 deal.

He said that working groups of the bilateral ‘strategic dialogue’ would be meeting shortly.

The US government had concerns about the nuclear programme, but after realising that Pakistan would not budge on that, it started agitating the Haqqani network issue, he said. “Even there we do not have any difference of objective, we only hold divergent views on timing and sequencing of how we proceed,” he added.

Iran

Mr Aziz said the government maintained a balance in its relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

He said the Iranian government had promised full cooperation in investigating the presence of Indian intelligence agent Kulbushan Jadhav in the country prior to his capture in Pakistan in March.

“They have given a clear commitment about not allowing their soil to be used against us,” he said.

He disclosed that after a controversy over Jadhav erupted during Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Pakistan, “I phoned Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who was then at the airport, and asked him to wait for me. I went to the airport and clarified the whole issue to him”.

Mr Aziz said President Rouhani was right in saying that Jadhav was not discussed in his meeting with Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif. The discussion was instead about the general concern that Indian intelligence agency RAW’s agents were carrying out activities from Iran.

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2016

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