WASHINGTON: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that there can be no progress in the Afghan peace process without involving Pakistan and this cooperation can only be gained in a friendly manner.
In a wide-ranging news conference at the end of his 10-day visit to the United States, Mr Qureshi pointed out that Pakistan had a 70-year-old relationship with America, which should not be viewed through “Afghanistan’s prism”.
Mr Qureshi, who met US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton in Washington on Tuesday, said it would be wrong to expect that all differences between the US and Pakistan could be resolved in one day.
Says it will be wrong to expect all differences between Washington and Islamabad can be resolved in one day
“But I have succeeded in conveying the message that there can be no progress in the Afghan peace process without involving Pakistan,” he said. “And to seek this cooperation, it is important to maintain friendly ties with Pakistan. Pressures and blame-games worsen a situation, they do not improve it.”
The foreign minister acknowledged the importance of the Afghan issue, but said it would be wrong to link Pakistan with Afghanistan and ignore the 70-year-old relationship that Islamabad had had with Washington.
He said that in his talks with Secretary Pompeo he stressed this point and the need for reviving a structured dialogue between Pakistan and the US. Secretary Pompeo also spoke of continued engagement with Pakistan in a brief note issued by his office on Wednesday, he added.
The note reflected a change in the US attitude as it was very different from the statements that Washington had issued in the past one year, Mr Qureshi said, indicating that previous statements were harsh and critical while Wednesday’s note had a friendly tone.
Underlining the need for maintaining US-Pakistan ties, he said: “You had certain expectations. We had certain expectations. There were occasions when you were disappointed. There were occasions when we were disappointed. But now is the time to move ahead.”
Misunderstandings, he said, should not lead to discontinuation of ties because “discontinuation will not help. Staying engaged will.”
Mr Qureshi said he had discussed a strategy with US officials for promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan, but this was not the right time to disclose that strategy.
Referring to Pakistan’s stance that there was no military solution to the Afghan conflict, he said: “Now, all parties concede that only a political settlement will end this conflict. An atmosphere is emerging, which favours a negotiated settled. What would be the result of this effort, it is too early to say.”
Describing how this effort could be fruitful, he said: “Only talks and mutual trust can resolve this issue. We must stay engaged.”
The foreign minister said the US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, also attended his meeting with Secretary Pompeo along with other senior US officials. He said that one way of assessing progress in the efforts to improve US-Pakistan relations was to note how quickly Pakistan facilitated the visit by Mr Khalilzad, who was already on his way to the region while he (Mr Qureshi) was still in Washington.
The foreign minister rejected the suggestion that in a media interview he had offered to release Dr Shakil Afridi, who facilitated the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad in 2011.
“I said you look at Dr Afridi in a certain way. Our people look at Dr Afia Siddiqui in a certain way. You have expectations. They have expectations too. They also want Dr Siddiqui’s release.”
Mr Qureshi said Pakistan had followed a legal process in dealing with Dr Shakil Afridi and “as we respect your legal system, we expect you to show the same respect to our system”.
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2018