WASHINGTON: A US congressional panel has demanded cutting off all US assistance to Pakistan to persuade Islamabad to act against the Afghan Taliban groups allegedly using its territory to launch operations into Afghanistan, a move that Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz says is motivated by “baseless concerns” of “a section of US lawmakers”.
Some US lawmakers and witnesses also suggested declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism and imposing economic sanctions if Islamabad did not eliminate the alleged terrorist safe havens on its territory.
The Tuesday afternoon hearing — “Pakistan: Friend or foe?” — produced more heat than expected and at some points it came close to challenging the country’s very existence as a sovereign state.
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More than once Pakistan was called manipulative and accused of treating the United States like chumps.
“They are making chumps out of us. They see us we are being so stupid. It seems like paying the mafia,” said Congressman Matt Salmon, Chairman of the Asia and Pacific Subcommittee of House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“If I may use an undiplomatic term, we have been patsies,” said former US ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad and the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Mr Khalilzad, who is an ethnic Afghan, claimed that Pakistani leaders had gamed the American system for decades.
“Patsies chumps. Most Americans see out of this and yet our so-called leaders do not really get it,” said Mr Salmon while endorsing Mr Khalilzad’s views.
The comments, broadcast live on the internet, prompted the Pakistan embassy in Washington to clarify that the United States and Pakistan were still allies and there is “positive counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries”.
Sartaj Aziz downplays the move, describing it as motivated by ‘baseless concerns of some US legislators’
The statement recalled the October 2015 joint statement of President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in which the US leader “affirmed Pakistan’s role as a key counterterrorism partner and recognised the sacrifices that Pakistani civilians, military, and law enforcement personnel have made over the years as they confront terrorism and militant groups”.
The embassy noted that both leaders also renewed their common resolve to promote peace and stability throughout the region and to counter all forms of extremism and terrorism.
It pointed out that after a recent visit to Pakistan, Chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain, saw first-hand the results of military operations in North Waziristan, and acknowledged that “he was impressed by the progress on ground”.
“We need not remind the sceptics that no country has suffered more from terrorism than Pakistan,” said the embassy’s spokesman Nadeem Hotiana.
“Pakistan’s resolve to fight back the menace of terrorism is second to none. The extraordinary success of operation Zarb-i-Azb is a testimony to Pakistan’s unwavering commitment to eliminate terrorism from its soil,” he added.
But there was no mention of Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism at Tuesday’s joint hearing of the House subcommittees on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade and Asia and the Pacific.
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Ambassador Khalilzad and Bill Roggio, senior editor of the Long War Journal, called for cutting aid to Pakistan and placing it on the list of state sponsor of terrorism.
“At the end they are treating us like chumps. And we are more than willing to keep on handing out money to Pakistan,” Mr Roggio said in his testimony.
“Pakistanis are very clever in manipulating us. I have to say that,” added Mr Khalilzad. He claimed that Pakistani leaders and officials reached out to US lawmakers, invited them for visits and charmed them with promises that were never implemented.
Pakistan’s ability to manipulate US legislators and policy makers ensured the continuation of US military and economic assistance to the country, he added.
“My experience in dealing with Pakistan is that they will only give you something when they know that they are going to get something,” said Mr Khalilzad, who dealt with Pakistani officials as a senior diplomat of the Bush administration.
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher said that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia created the Taliban and the Haqqani network and Pakistan was protecting them.
He said the continuation of US aid to Pakistan was “ridiculous” and urged the US administration to reach out directly to people of different Pakistani regions instead.
“People of Balochistan should understand that the US is on their side for their independence and self-determination from a corrupt, viscous terrorist supporting regime,” Mr Rohrabacher said. “Same with the Sindhis, same with other groups in Pakistan.”
He claimed that the Pakistani “regime” was repressive and was “corrupt with their own people.” And yet “we continue to give them some type of support ... absolutely absurd,” he added.
Congressman William Keating, a ranking member of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-Proliferation and Trade, focused on Pakistani intelligence agencies and asked panellists if the agencies were “a state within a state”.
“It is by no means a rogue institution within Pakistan. It does not operate independently or on its own. It is an instrument or an arm of the Pakistani army,” said Tricia Bacon, an assistant professor at the American University.
“It is implementing the policies of the Pakistani army. It is implementing on behalf of the Pakistani army.”
“I concur with my colleagues,” Mr Khalilzad said.
Congressman Salmon suggested that as the first step, the United States should completely cut off aid to Pakistan.
“That would be the right first step. If we do not (make) any changes, we move some of the other suggestions, state sponsor terrorism, possible economic sanctions,” he added.
“I have never heard such harsh comments being used against a US ally,” said a Western journalist after the hearing.
The two subcommittees are associated with the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They can be instrumental in passing legislations that persuade the administration to take the action they require.
Tuesday’s hearing, held by known anti-Pakistan elements within Congress, aimed at bringing pressure on Pakistan to act against the Taliban groups allegedly based inside the country. So far, there are no real threats of a congressional sanction and recent attempts to do so have failed to get enough votes to pass.
Anti-Pakistan feelings in Congress are pervasive. It is extremely rare to hear pro-Pakistan remarks at congressional hearings.
Anees Hanif adds from Karachi: Referring to the US Congress panel discussion, Sartaj Aziz said on Wednesday that only a section of US legislators thought that Pakistan should be treated as a foe by the United States.
“Their concerns about Afghanistan and Indian propaganda are behind some Congressmen’s views against Pakistan,” he told a news television channel.
He said that the whole Congress realised Pakistan’s importance in the Islamic world and South Asia and in resolving the Afghan issue, excepting some Congressmen who were “either not updated or have some baseless concerns” which “we are striving to address”.
Answering a question, the adviser said Pakistan was acting against all sorts of terrorists according to its own anti-terror plan.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2016