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US supports Pakistan’s integrity: Wells

Updated March 11, 2018

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WASHINGTON: The United States has assured Pakistan that it firmly supports the country’s territorial integrity and opposes Baloch insurgents and other groups that are a threat to the state.

Alice Wells, who heads the State Department’s bureau for South and Central Asia, also reassured Islamabad that US would not allow the use of Afghan territory against Pakistan.

Speaking at the US Institute of Peace, Washington, on Friday, Ms Wells emphasised the need for Pakistan to bring pressure on the Taliban to join the Afghan reconciliation process and to disrupt the annual spring offensive by these insurgents.

“That does not imply that we would support or think that there’s any manipulation of Afghanistan so that it can be used against Pakistan,” she said. “We firmly support Pakistan’s territorial integrity. We do not support the Baloch insurgents or the threat of irredentism against Pakistan.”

State Department official says Washington opposes Baloch insurgents

The stress on Balochistan is particularly significant because the question she was responding to had not mentioned Balochistan or the Baloch insurgency. But Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua — who held two key meetings with senior US officials in Washington on Thursday — did mention this issue in her remarks to the Pakistani media.

Ms Janjua also accused India of using the Afghan territory for stirring troubles in Balochistan.

Ms Wells also attended the Pakistani foreign secretary’s meeting with US Undersecretary of State John Sullivan.

On Thursday evening, Ms Janjua had another meeting with Deputy National Security Adviser Nadia Schadlow and Gen Joseph Votel, who heads the US Central Command.

Ms Wells, while assuring Pakistan of continued US support against insurgency, underlined the need for a similar action from Islamabad.

“And certainly, our message is that any terrorist group threatening any country in the region has to be opposed,” she said. “So, we oppose groups that are targeting Pakistan. We oppose, of course, groups that are targeting Afghanistan.”

Ms Wells recalled that hours before Ms Janjua’s meetings in Washington, the US Justice Department had announced millions of dollars of rewards for information leading to the arrest of three Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s leaders involved in terrorist attacks inside Pakistan.

But she complained that Washington had not yet seen “the sustained and decisive” actions it would like to see Pakistan take against the Taliban. “We would certainly like to see steps taken that make it harder for the Taliban to plan for spring offensive, to disrupt their ability to meet and to lay out this operational plan for the next year,” she said.

Ms Wells said that while Pakistan had recently taken positive measures, “we believe that Pakistan really can play a much more important and critical role in shaping Taliban behaviour or incentives for undertaking negotiations.”

Ms Wells acknowledged that Pakistan too had interests that “it wants to ensure are met during the course of the stabilisation of Afghanistan, which we take seriously. And so, the dialogue that we have with Pakistan, whether it’s through military channels or through civilian channels, seeks to address these core concerns.”

The US official warned countries interested in seeking a peaceful resolution of the Afghan dispute, not to use proxies for gaining influence.

“Seeing an enemy of an enemy as a friend and hedging by employing the Taliban and legitimising the Taliban as a military force postpones the day when we can actually get to a negotiating table and achieve reconciliation in Afghanistan,” she said.

Responding to a question about how the US could persuade Pakistan to support its efforts in Afghanistan, Ms Well said: “We have calibrated our relationship with Pakistan in a very different way than other administrations. We’ve gone much further and underscored the importance and the centrality of this issue to our ability to expand relations with Pakistan.”

To achieve this objective, the US was using both civilian and military channels, she added. “You see an intensive dialogue by Gen Votel with his counterparts. By Secretary (of State Rex) Tillerson and Secretary (of Defence James) Mattis and that will continue,” she said.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2018