WASHINGTON: The establishment of civilian rule and the democratic transfer of power in Pakistan is one of the country’s great achievements and Washington would like to see this process succeed, says the head of the South Asian affairs at the US State Department.

In a roundtable with journalists in Washington on Thursday, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells also said that the US was continuing its conversation with Pakistan to persuade it to take “sustained and decisive” steps against the Taliban and to encourage them to join the Afghan peace process.

“The establishment of civilian rule in Pakistan and the democratic transfer of power is one of Pakistan’s great achievements. And so, like others, we want to see it succeed,” she said.

“We want civilian institutions to strengthen, and it’s in that vein that when we engage with Pakistani leaders we express concern when there is evidence or indications that civil society or media are not able to participate fully or without pressure, because that will ultimately detract from what should be a success story in Pakistan.”

US says talks continue with Pakistan to persuade it to take ‘sustained and decisive’ steps against Taliban

Ms Wells also urged the Pakistani government to allow individuals to assemble and express their views peacefully and to allow journalists to “report fully on developments in the country”.

Underlining Washington’s desire to stay engaged with Islamabad, she said: “The conversation continues with the Pakistani leadership — civilian and military leadership — on trying to encourage the both, sustained and decisive steps against the Taliban leadership, to arrest, to expel them, or bring them to the negotiating table.”

Repeating the US claim that Afghan Taliban leadership councils operate from Pakistan, Ms Wells said: “It is absolutely clear that the only stumbling block to a meaningful political negotiation is the Taliban leadership and many of whom reside outside of Afghanistan and thus outside of the pressure of Resolute Support and Afghan national security forces.”

The US official reminded Islamabad that Pakistan too has opportunities in the Afghan peace process to address its longstanding concerns over cross-border terrorism and terrorist groups that operate in ungoverned Afghan space.

She noted that Pakistan had lost “many tens of thousands of lives in beating back the Pakistani Taliban from Fata areas”.

“They also obviously have concerns about refugees, about narcotics, about border management more broadly. All of these issues can be taken up in the context of negotiations,” Ms Wells said.

“So, the point of my engagement with the Pakistani leadership is to explore how we work together and to see the opportunity that the South Asia strategy presents.”

Ms Wells said that the United States welcomed the steps Pakistan had taken to improve its relations with Afghanistan and would like to see those steps extended to a more vigorous counterterrorism effort by Pakistan. “The quality of our relationship is going to depend on the quality of our ability to work together. Pakistan is an important country,” she said.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2018