Pakistan refuses to take the blame for the Haqqani Network and other alleged militant outfits, reminding the United States that these 'terrorists' were considered the 'darlings' of the White House up until a few decades ago.
Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, who is attending the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, made remarks to this end at the Asia Society forum on Tuesday.
"Don't blame us for the Haqqanis [the Haqqani Network] and don't blame us for the Hafiz Saeeds [referring to the head of banned Jamaatud Dawa]. These were the people who were your darlings just 20 to 30 years back. They were being dined and wined in the White House and now you say 'go to hell Pakistanis because you are nurturing these people'."
Further clarifying Islamabad's position, Asif said: "It is very easy to say Pakistan is floating the Haqqanis and Hafiz Saeed and Lashkar-e-Taiba. They are liabilities. I accept that they are liabilities, but give us time to get rid of them because we don't have the assets to match these liabilities and you are increasing them [our liabilities] further."
He said that Pakistan is ready to work with the United States for effective management of the Afghan border to stop terrorist infiltration and to facilitate a peace settlement in Afghanistan.
In the past, the US has accused Pakistan of not taking significant action against the Haqqani Network. Washington claims the militant outfit has been operating out of "Pakistan-based safe havens" to threaten US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
'Scapegoating Pakistan is neither fair nor accurate'
Speaking at the forum, Asif further stressed that there was no military solution to the festering conflict in Afghanistan. “Scapegoating Pakistan for all the Afghan ills is neither fair nor accurate,” Asif said.
“This will only help forces that we are trying to fight collectively,” he remarked.
Pakistan, he said, had in the past done all it could to facilitate a political settlement in Afghanistan, making sure that Pakistani soil was not used against any country.
In his opening remarks, Khawaja Asif also covered Pakistan’s relations with India, the Kashmir dispute, counter-terrorism measures and the country’s economic progress.
Asif said Pakistan has a “larger stake” in seeing the return of peace and stability in Afghanistan than any other country, having suffered grievously from the conflict and instability across the border.
“We are mindful of the strong desire in the US to bring the ‘long war’ in Afghanistan to an end,” the minister said. “We support this objective wholeheartedly and are ready to help in any way we can to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he offered.
He, however, made it clear that there were obviously clear limits to what Pakistan could do.
“We cannot take responsibility for Afghanistan’s peace and security and be asked to achieve what the combined strength of some of the most powerful and richest countries could not accomplish,” he told the audience.
“Effective border management, frankly, is the key,” the minister said, adding: “More needs to be done on the Afghan side of the border where terrorist elements are finding easy safe havens.”
“We are keen to work with the US in effectively managing the Afghan border and in facilitating a peace process to the extent we can."
He went on to say: “The emergence of new threats, including Da’esh demands ever greater coordination and stronger partnerships between like-minded countries to put up a united front to counter these dark forces of exclusion and extremism.”
Tensions with India
Talking about Pakistan's sour relations with India, he said that a new initiative was needed to bring India and Pakistan to the negotiating table. He stressed the need to discuss all issues, including the decades-old Kashmir dispute — the main source of tension between the two countries.
"Peace in the neighbourhood is impossible to achieve unless relations with India improve," he said. "Pakistan reached out to India to seek normalisation of relations and resolution of all disputes through dialogue and engagement, but India did not reciprocate," he added.
“The unprovoked violations on the LoC [Line of Control in Kashmir] and the working boundary, escalating political rhetoric, excessive use of force against unarmed civilians in occupied Kashmir and harassment of minorities, particularly Muslims in India, do not bode well for peace, reconciliation and dialogue in South Asia,” highlighted the minister.
Pakistan is ready to work with India to seek peaceful resolution of all disputes and to create an environment of peace and stability allowing the people of the two countries to realise their aspirations of prosperity and development, he said.
Souring relations with Trump's America
Asif's remarks come amid soaring tensions between Islamabad and Washington. Last month, US President Donald Trump, announcing his South Asia policy, lambasted Pakistan for providing safe havens to "agents of chaos."
Pakistan's response to Washington has remained stern and Islamabad has denied the existence of safe havens in the country.
Over the past week, as world leaders traveled to New York for the UN General Assembly, tensions between Pakistan and India, too, were brought to the fore with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj terming Pakistan an "export factory for terror."
Pakistan maintained that Swaraj's statement had betrayed her country's hostility towards its neighbour and maintained that India was pursuing a policy of state-sponsored terrorism.