WASHINGTON: Pakistan now has an even more important role in ending the Afghan war than it did in arranging a peace deal with the Taliban, says William E. Todd, Washington’s new envoy for Islamabad.
Mr Todd, who was nominated by President Donald Trump earlier this year, told his confirmation that Pakistan remained a difficult but essential US partner in South Asia, and Washington was seeking to reset its ties with Islamabad.
“This is an important time in the broader US-Pakistan relationship,” he told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. “This is a longstanding and important, but always complicated and sometimes contentious relationship.”
Acknowledging that the two allies have had differences, Mr Todd added: “Pakistan is an essential regional partner, and this is an opportune moment in our relationship to work together on shared goals.”
The new US envoy said that cooperation between the two countries was also essential for bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.
“Peace in Afghanistan is in both our countries’ best interests, and effective US-Pakistani cooperation is essential to achieve that objective,” he said.
Ambassador Todd referred to a speech his boss, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, made in Islamabad in 2018, telling his hosts how to reset the relationship across a broad spectrum — economic, business, commercial.
But to do so, “we need ... to develop a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan that benefits certainly Afghanistan, but also the United States and Pakistan,” Mr Pompeo said.
Recently, several senior US officials acknowledged that Pakistan played a key role in arranging a peace deal between the US and the Taliban earlier this year. Washington hopes that this deal will ultimately end the 19-year old war in Afghanistan and will allow it to withdraw its troops from the war-ravaged country.
“Today, our countries recognise that we share a common interest in a durable peace in Afghanistan,” Ambassador Todd told the Senate panel.
He too recognised Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process, noting that Islamabad “played a critical role in creating the conditions that brought Afghan leaders and the Taliban to the historic start of Afghan Peace negotiations”.
But now, the Pakistanis “have an even more important role to play in supporting efforts toward a negotiated political settlement that ends 40 years of war,” he added. “This is a moment of opportunity for Pakistan to continue to forge a new and better role in the region.”
Ambassador Todd said if confirmed it would be one of his highest priorities to encourage Pakistan to play this role.
“In terms of regional dynamics, although we have a strong relationship with India, that does not need to come at the expense of Pakistan “ he said. “I believe that under the right conditions, we can have a strong relationship with both countries.”
Ambassador Todd indicated that Washington’s close ties with both New Delhi and Islamabad could help reduce tensions in the region. “Our hope is that both countries will take the necessary steps to reduce tensions, and as President Trump has offered, we are prepared to facilitate dialogue if both sides request it,” he said.
“To truly reduce regional tensions, and rebuild a strong relationship with the United States, Pakistan must take sustained and irreversible action against terrorism,” Ambassador Todd said.
He noted that Pakistan too had suffered terribly at the hands of terrorists and had committed publicly to ensuring that terrorist did not use its territory to operate.
“Pakistan has taken important steps toward fulfilling that commitment but needs to continue that work,” he said.
“I will work with Pakistan to advance our shared interest in eliminating terrorism from its territory and advancing security in the region,” he added. “I will actively engage Pakistan on these issues, as well as strategic stability and non-proliferation.”
Ambassador Todd said that he would be carrying a clear message from Washington on the threat that nuclear weapons posed to the United States, the region, and its allies and partners.
“Pakistan needs to demonstrate it is prepared to live up to international commitments on weapons of mass destruction.”
The US envoy said that there were three other key priorities that he will focus on if confirmed.“My first goal will be advancing human rights, particularly freedom of religion and expression,” he said.
“I am also concerned about increasing restrictions on civil society, including the growing harassment and disappearances of journalists without accountability.” His third priority is to increase bilateral trade and investment with a country which has the fifth largest population in the world.
Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2020