ISLAMABAD: Beyond the apparent stalemate over terror sanctuaries, Washington and Islamabad are quietly engaged in diplomacy to address their fast deteriorating relationship.
Foreign Office spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal on Thursday disclosed that Pakistan and the United States were engaged in negotiations, which are “ongoing and outside public domain” and that cooperation with the US has remained unaffected despite recent developments.
He did not go into details and only said that no demands were being made from the US in the negotiations.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells this week visited Pakistan during which she renewed the demand for clearing Pakistani territory of alleged terror sanctuaries. Earlier US Centcom chief Gen Joseph Votel had reached out to Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa for calming the frayed nerves at General Headquarters (GHQ).
The information publicly shared by both sides about these interactions created the perception that the second attempt at salvaging the relationship after the US leadership’s rhetoric against Pakistan following the announcement of the new policy on South Asia and Afghanistan was not going well.
This impression was reinforced by Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, who told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that there was no change in the situation because the US was sticking to its position. It should be recalled that the earlier engagement process that started with a meeting between Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and US Vice President Michael Pence on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly ended last month without achieving a breakthrough.
The common ground has, however, remained elusive. At the same time, the bitterness in the tone of the US leadership has increased and more lately the Trump administration has started taking punitive actions against Pakistan suspending the security aid package.
Pakistan has consistently maintained that for meaningfully addressing the terrorism concerns, the US should facilitate the repatriation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and fencing of the Pak-Afghan border.
Responding to a question about Pakistan curtailing intelligence sharing with the US after President Trump’s new tweet and suspension of security assistance, Dr Faisal said: “Cooperation in all areas continues with the US”.
Meanwhile, speaking about the #FreeKarachi campaign in Washington, the spokesman said the government had taken a serious note of this “smearing campaign” in different US cities.
He said the matter had been raised by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua in her meeting with Ms Wells. Pakistan’s embassy in Washington has also been instructed to raise the issue with US authorities to prevent recurrence of such activities.
The campaign was first noticed when cabs carrying #FreeKarachi banners took part in Martin Luther King Day parade in Washington. A few weeks back Baloch organisations and their supporters displayed #FreeBalochistan billboards at the Times Square in New York City on the lines of similar campaigns in European cities.
Indian deputy high commissioner J. P. Singh was summoned to Foreign Office for receiving protest over latest ceasefire violations by Indian troops along the Working Boundary in Sialkot Sector in which two women lost their lives.
“Despite calls for restraint, India continues to indulge in ceasefire violations,” the spokesman said.
He said India had in the first 18 days of 2018 committed more than 100 ceasefire violations along the Line of Control and the Working Boundary resulting in the martyrdom of three civilians and four troops.
Mr Singh was summoned to FO also a few days back over martyrdom of four troops, who were hit by Indian mortars while repairing lines of communication.
India seems to be following last year’s pattern of ceasefire violations when it committed 1,900 breaches, leaving 87 people dead.
The spokesman said that Ms Janjua in her meeting with Ms Wells had asked the US to advise restraint to India and urge it to stop its escalation tactics.
Dr Faisal expressed concern over the concentrated presence of the militant Islamic State (IS) group along Afghan borders with Pakistan, Iran, China and Central Asian Republics.
The spokesman said: “Russia, along with many other regional countries, have expressed repeated concerns on the presence and rise of Daesh (Arabic acronym for IS) and other terrorist groups along Pakistan-Afghanistan border, as well as with those of Central Asia, which is extremely worrying. We have repeatedly taken up the matter with all concerned to curb this development.”
He also expressed concern over presence of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and JuA in Afghanistan. These terrorist groups have been involved in cross border attacks on Pakistan’s military posts and civilian targets.
“India has developed a nexus with some of these groups and used them to orchestrate terrorist attacks in Pakistan,” he added.
Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2018