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Ahsan for revival of structured talks with US

Updated February 10, 2018

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WASHINGTON: A federal minister has urged the US leadership to treat Pakistan with respect and called for revival of structured dialogue between the two countries so that strained ties could be improved.

At a Thursday night news conference at the Pakistan Embassy, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that India did not want the US-Pakistan relations to improve.

“Only a structured dialogue could remove the misunderstandings between the United States and Pakistan and we hope that this process would resume soon,” he said.

Mr Iqbal also underlined the need for regular talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan, adding that the dialogue process that started late last month must continue.

“Regular talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan are even more important [than restoring ties with Washington]. We need to realise that we cannot change our geography. We are neighbours and will remain so,” he said.

Says Pakistan not too keen on restoration of aid

The United States and Pakistan already have a platform for annual, ministerial-level talks known as the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, which includes six working groups on energy; security, strategic stability, and non-proliferation; law enforcement and counterterrorism; economics and finance; education, science, and technology and the Defence Consultative Group. The last strategic dialogue was held in Washington in February 2016 but the Trump administration has not resumed the process.

During the minister’s week-long stay in Washington, the US Senate and the House of Representatives held two hearings on Pakistan; both ended with a warning to Islamabad that relations could not improve until Pakistan eliminated alleged terrorist safe havens on its soil and joined a US-led initiative to defeat the Afghan Taliban.

At both the hearings, lawmakers backed the Trump administration’s Jan 4 decision to suspend security assistance to Pakistan and also highlighted Pakistan’s domestic issues, such as disappearance of political activists in Balochistan and Sindh and the activities of certain religious groups in the country.

Mr Iqbal, however, said that such hearings were often called by various lobbies active in the US Congress and it had little impact on official policies.

“I held a series of meetings with both lawmakers and senior US officials during my week-long stay in Washington,” he said. “They recognise Pakistan as a key ally and want to restore ties.”

The minister, however, said that because Pakistan understood US security needs, particularly in Afghanistan, “they must also understand our security concerns. You cannot respond to one side’s concerns and ignore the other’s [concerns]”.

Mr Iqbal said that while the government had serious reservations with the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Nawaz Sharif case, he did not discuss those with US officials. “These are our internal problems. Outside the country, we represent Pakistan and discuss the issues that concern the state,” he said.

Urging the US leadership to treat Pakistan with respect, Mr Iqbal said: “If you offer people of Pakistan a cup of poison with dignity, they might drink it. But if you offer people of Pakistan a cup of honey under duress and under coercion, they will refuse it.”

The minister said that Pakistan was not very keen on restoration of US aid, pointing out that Islamabad “fought the war against terror without external support and can continue to do so”.

“We want recognition of our efforts in the war against terrorism,” he said while assuring the US that Pak­istan was committed to fighting all kinds of terrorists.

“Terrorists are terrorists,” no matter which side of the border they were on, he said, referring to the US claim that senior leadership of the Afghan Taliban had taken refuge in Pakistan.

“Share intel on terrorists; we are ready to conduct operations,” the minister said.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2018