WASHINGTON: War with India is not an option, says Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, as a senior US official urges Pakistan to work for promoting peace in South Asia.
In an interview to Al-Jazeera television, Mr Qureshi said the new government had inherited strained relations with two key countries — India and the United States — and was working to improve ties with both.
In an interview to BBC Urdu, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells said that peace in South Asia was key to the region’s prosperity and urged Pakistan to work for it.
In an interview with Al-Jazeera TV, foreign minister says there is no military solution — the only solution is a dialogue
Referring to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s July 26 peace offer to India, Mr Qureshi said that seeking a constructive dialogue with India was a key component of the new government’s policies. “What we did…we thought made sense. Two neighbours with outstanding issues, atomic powers. How do you fix things? War is no option. There is no military solution: the only solution is a dialogue,” he emphasised.
Alice Wells also stressed this point in her interview, saying: “We welcome PM Khan’s statements about peace with neighbours and any steps Pakistan takes for this purpose.”
The US diplomat, however, focused more on the need for improvement in Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan, where the United States has been fighting a resilient insurgency for the past 17 years. “Pakistan needs to support economic stability in Afghanistan and allow transit trade between Afghanistan and India,” she said.
Noting that better economic relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan would reduce tensions on both eastern and western borders, Ms Wells said better “border management” would also help improve ties.
Foreign Minister Qureshi rejected the suggestion that previous Pakistani governments had aided the Taliban. “They were helping their own country (and were trying to) overcome a situation which was not of their own making,” he said.
He also referred to America’s links with Afghan freedom fighters during the 1980s, when Washington backed a Mujahideen insurgency against the Soviet occupation forces. “Who were these people? Who supported them? Who trained them? We forget history and at times we overlook that friends change,” he complained.
“People that you supported, some of the people, were called extremists. Weren’t they invited to the US? Weren’t they entertained in the White House? So, friends change. Circumstances change. We were just defending and protecting ourselves,” he said.
Ms Wells also addressed Islamabad’s complaint that extremists were using the Afghan territory for conducting attacks into Pakistan. “US disagrees with any cross-border terrorism. We know that TTP [Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan] takes advantage of the Afghan government’s lack of control in some areas,” she said, adding: “We are working towards bilateral talks (to address this situation).”
Assuring Pakistan that the United States did not want Afghan territory to be used against Pakistan, Ms Wells said: “We want to eliminate all Mullah Fazlullah type terrorist groups.” She said that establishing peace in the region should be a top priority for both Afghanistan and Pakistan as “both have witnessed a wave of terrorism”.
She added: “Afghanistan is working towards convincing Taliban for peace talks just like Pakistan is working towards peace in the region.”
Mr Qureshi said Pakistan wanted friendly relations with the US, while exercising its option to cultivate relations with China and others. “We want the US to be friends with Pakistan. We recognise that the US is an important global power, and they will continue to be a military, technological and economic power in the foreseeable future,” he said.
“They are looking at different options; they are looking at new friends in the region. We do have friends who have been consistent and very valuable. China is one of them.”
Mr Qureshi said that some other nations also recognised Pakistan’s strategic location and understood its importance, “so, we are not alone, everyone has options”.
Alice Wells acknowledged that Pakistan was “an important country in the region (and has) an important part to play”. Asked what were her expectations from the new Pakistani government, she said: “We have the same expectations that we have from other governments in South Asia.”
She said the Trump administration’s South Asia policy sought to eradicate all “terrorist activities” and “non-state actors” from the region. “We have told Pakistan before that terrorists’ groups are still active in the country and they need to be eliminated,” she added.
Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2018