ISLAMABAD: Despite lingering mutual mistrust, Pakistan and the United States on Saturday agreed to carry forward their bilateral engagement and cooperation for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
The agreement was reached during a meeting between US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Olson with Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry — a second meeting in three weeks and since the bilateral relationship took a dip following a drone attack in Nushki in May that took out Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour and amid growing concerns in the US Congress that Pakistan is soft on the Haqqani network and the Taliban during its counterterrorism operations.
Meanwhile, Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif, while countering the reservations in Congress during a meeting with a senior US bi-partisan Congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain, Chairman Senate Armed Services Committee, at the General Headquarters, counted the successes of military’s counterterrorism Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan. Also, the army chief listed unregulated border and rocky ties with Afghanistan as major challenges for sustaining those achievements.
Olson and McCain hold talks with Aizaz, Raheel
“[The] COAS dilated upon security challenges faced by Pakistan and Pakistan’s contribution to regional stability and global peace. Pakistan’s successes in war on terror, [and] need for an effective border management across [the] long porous Pak-Afghan border to check illegal movement on either side of the border were also discussed,” a statement from ISPR said about the meeting.
The delegation, which included Senators Lindsey Graham and Joe Donnelly, is visiting Pakistan on an invitation by Gen Sharif.
During its stay in the country, the delegation would study the actions Pakistan has taken against terrorism and their impact on regional peace and security.
The delegation would also visit the operational area.
Concerns in the US Congress that Pakistan did not fully act against the Haqqani network and the Taliban during Operation Zarb-i-Azb had earlier prompted Senate Foreign Relations Committee to stop the use of Foreign Military Financing programme for partially funding the sale of 8 F-16s, which ultimately led to the cancellation of the deal.
The US defence secretary has, meanwhile, also been withholding a certification to the Congress that Pakistan has adequately acted against the Haqqani network and the Taliban. Deductions have, therefore, been made from the Coalition Support Fund reimbursements for Pakistan.
Ambassador Olson had at the Atlantic Council on June 21 repeated those concerns when he noted: “It doesn’t seem to us that Pakistan will have a bright future…unless and until it goes after the Afghan Taliban.”
The US opinion is that a strong action by Pakistan against the Taliban sanctuaries and supply lines on its territory would push the insurgent group to join the peace process.
Pakistan had been claiming that its security forces acted against all terrorist groups indiscriminately. But lately they have become more forthcoming by admitting that they cannot start a war on their own soil for Afghanistan by taking on the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban.
Adviser to the PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said in an interview with Reuters the previous day: “There are risks involved of how far we can go and in what sequence we should go and in what scale we should go.”
Gen Sharif very candidly explained the situation as he described normal relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan as key for regional peace and security.
The Pak-Afghan relations, except for short periods of calm, have remained tense. Pakistan sees Indian involvement in Afghanistan as a major security threat for itself.
Gen Sharif had in one of the meetings with a US delegation last month also asked for Afghanistan to dismantle the sanctuaries of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan on its soil.
Pakistani officials have been hoping that the Congressional delegation’s visit would help address the misperceptions in the Congress about the operations.
Sartaj Aziz has said that he will in his meeting with the Congressional delegation counter the allegations that not enough has been done.
Although there was no word from Senator McCain’s office on the GHQ meeting as yet, Pakistani officials said the delegation was appreciative of Pakistani achievements and understood their constraints.
Mr Olson also separately met Gen Sharif.
The Foreign Office in a statement on Mr Olson’s meeting with Aizaz Chaudhry said: “Both sides agreed on continued constructive engagement between Pakistan and the United States in the areas of trade, investment, education, health and energy.”
Mr Chaudhry reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to the Quadrilateral Coordination Group as an effective forum to facilitate an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process, the statement said.
Mr Olson, the FO said, expressed appreciation for continued close cooperation between Pakistan and the United States on issues of mutual interest.
Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2016