ISLAMABAD, July 26: Pakistan and Britain on Thursday resolved to work together with a holistic approach to effectively meet the common challenge of terrorism and to ensure greater stability in the region and around the world.
These views were expressed by the visiting British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri at a joint news conference after their two-hour discussions that covered bilateral, regional and international issues.
Mr Miliband, who is on his first visit outside Europe as the new foreign secretary of the UK, said at the outset that they had “excellent” discussions which followed a “very productive” meeting he had with President Gen Pervez Musharraf.
“We agreed that defeating terror requires a long term strategy and a coordinated and cooperative approach and resolved to continue our excellent cooperation in the area of counterterrorism,” Mr Kasuri declared.
The British foreign secretary in turn said: “Our endeavour is to support people in this country and Afghanistan in building a secure and decent future for them and to marginalise those who would actually threaten all of us.”
He noted that the abiding theme of his discussions with both the president and the foreign minister was that economic, social, political and security development had to go together. That was essential for any strategy to combine all those elements to make it work and to build greater stability around the world.
Referring to his discussions in Afghanistan, he said this was an issue that required concerted effort on both sides of the border, adding: “And that is a commitment that both of our governments are determined to take forward.”
He underscored that it was a problem that required economic, political and social intervention as well as security intervention.
He endorsed Mr Kasuri’s view of the shared interest both the countries had in regional stability and in stable and peaceful development in Afghanistan and other countries in the region. Agreeing that within Afghanistan it was important to have a social, economic and political approach as well as a military approach.
To a query regarding his discussion with President Musharraf on the challenge of quelling terrorism in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, Mr Miliband emphasised: “In every aspect of our discussions we’ve been talking about what we can do together, not me lecturing the Pakistani government or vice versa. This is a shared challenge that we are approaching together in a serious and concerted way.” Being sympathetic to Pakistan’s standpoint on the issue and acknowledging efforts it is making, he stated: “I think it is very important, especially for British audience to understand that nearly a 1,000 Pakistani civilians and soldiers have themselves been killed as result of terrorism in this country and as the foreign minister said there is a very strong Pakistani self-interest, never mind the global commitment to peace and to stability to tackle terrorism at its source.”
On the view that the campaign against terrorism had overlooked the agenda of ‘winning hearts and minds’ Mr Miliband said partly the purpose of his visit was to build bridges where there were gulfs. “I think bridges are strong but can be made stronger.”
He avoided a direct response to the question on whether the British government supported Pakistan’s position that US calls for a unilateral strike inside Pakistan’s territory to dismantle suspected Al Qaeda bases were irresponsible, dangerous and violated the principles of international law and would undermine counter-terrorism efforts. Instead he mentioned the extensive discussions the two sides had on the shared work on counter-terrorism notably in the border areas and stated: “Our view is that there is a very strong partnership between the British government and the Pakistani government but more than that a strong partnership between all the nations that are involved in the ISAF force in Afghanistan, including the United States, and with the Pakistani government.”
In this context he referred to statements in Washington on Wednesday from “a reasonably high-up in the US government” which emphasised that the right way forward was one based on partnership between different countries.
At this point Mr Kasuri intervened to say: “Such statements (about unilateral strike by US officials) are irresponsible and they should not be made. In fact, they are counterproductive to the sort of effort and cooperation that Pakistan and the United States are making jointly.” In a dig at the US government he declared: “This may be election season in the United States but it should not be at our expense. As far as Pakistan is concerned, we have made concerted efforts. We are fighting terrorism not at anyone’s behest but in Pakistan’s national interest.” Warning that such statements undermined support for counter-terrorism efforts, he said Pakistan was surprised by the tone of the statements that also made Pakistani people unhappy.
Later, welcoming the change in tone and statements from the US on Wednesday Mr Kasuri said: “May be some of the spokespersons or whoever they were got carried away by their enthusiasm.”
Dispelling the suspicion about presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, Mr Miliband emphatically stated: “My country and other countries are seeking domination of no other country. This is not a clash of civilisations between the West and the Islamic world. This is an engagement between people across divides of nation and race and religion.” He added: “That’s why I am here stretching out a hand that is warmly reciprocated by the government in Pakistan.”
When his attention was drawn to the fact that foreign armies had been humiliated in Afghanistan and asked what made him think they would succeed where others had failed, he asserted: “The role of the international community is to support not to replace the democratically elected institutions in Afghanistan. We are there to support a democratically elected Afghan government and the Afghan government wants the support of the internationally community.” He said those who talked about British or international colony were quite wrong, adding: “The engagement of British and international diplomats, aid workers as well as soldiers is a testimony to the fact that this is an approach determined to provide economic, social, political as well as security benefit to the people of Afghanistan.”Responding to a question Mr Kasuri said the overwhelming majority of the people in Fata were interested in economic development and made it clear that the government would continue to focus on the economic development of the areas and on ongoing political process. Mr Kasuri said he had sought help of his British counterpart for EU support for development of Fata just as the US was cooperating with the government in this regard.
Defending the North Waziristan peace deal, he argued: “In the long run you only can have a political approach, of course you do need the military…and even when the much talked about North Waziristan was undertaken, Pakistan army was not withdrawn.” Noting that certain commitments made by some tribal elders had not been fulfilled, he said hence greater number of soldiers had been dispatched to ensure those commitments are honoured.
“But we will continue to wean away the bulk of the population by talking to their tribal elders and we will try and isolate the extremists,” he maintained.
Replying to a question Mr Miliband said the issue of terrorism endangering people in Britain was also discussed. However he stressed: “There are responsibilities both for the UK government and in Pakistan for tackling terrorism that originates or that stems from the work of British-born Pakistani residents and citizens.” He said the discussions revolved around what both sides could do to ensure that they cut off those supply routes and those developments.
Endorsing this, Mr Kasuri said: “That’s in our common interest.”
RAUF: The British foreign secretary was somewhat evasive when asked if he had raised the issue of the extradition of Heathrow bombing plot’s key suspect Rashid Rauf and left it at: “I think it’s well known that this is an important issue in our two countries. I would say that the Pakistani criminal justice system is doing its work in a thoroughly appropriate and constitutional way and that’s the right step forward at the moment.”
MQM: Mr Miliband was non-committal when asked how seriously the Scotland was probing into the charges filed against MQM chief Altaf Hussain by PTI leader Imran Khan. However, in a tacit acknowledgement that the matter was being investigated, he told a questioner: “It wouldn’t be right for me to comment on any ongoing or rather investigations.”
BENAZIR: Mr Miliband declined to comment on a recent report that claimed that his political director Sir Mark Lyall Grant had been able to help resolve the differences between the Pakistan People’s Party chairperson and Gen Musharraf, saying: “The questions of internal Pakistani politics are matter for Pakistani politicians rather than for visitors.”
The two top diplomats also discussed economic and trade issues both in the bilateral and multilateral context. “I reiterated the value we attach to the continued support provided by the UK within the EU. I underlined the need for equitable market access to Pakistan in the EU -- through a free trade agreement or a similar mechanism -- for sustaining Pakistan’s high rate of economic growth and for fighting poverty and extremism,” Mr Kasuri said, adding that Mr Miliband agreed that trade access could strengthen efforts in this area.
Pointing to the important social ties that exist between the two countries the Mr Miliband said: “We look forward to developing and deepening them at every level in the months and years ahead.”
On the question of what additional measures were being considered to quell cross border terrorism, Mr Kasuri said Pakistan had offered to seal and mine the entire border to check infiltration but the international community failed to extend support.
Mr Miliband maintained that at this stage it was important to be consistent and coherent in following through on the strategies that had been developed and expressed the resolve to take them forward.
In his opening statement Mr Kasuri expressed the confidence that Pakistan-UK relations would continue to strengthen in all dimensions and said: “Pakistan places a very high importance on building on the deep-rooted ties of friendship and multifaceted cooperation with the UK.”
Describing his discussions with Mr Miliband as “very productive and fruitful” he added: “We reviewed the whole gamut of bilateral relations with a perspective of further cementing cooperation. We discussed possibilities of further increasing existing bilateral trade of US $ 2.107 billion (2006-2007) which has doubled over the last four years.”
CALL ON PRESIDENT: Earlier, the British Foreign Secretary called on President Musharraf and shared his views with him on the situation in Afghanistan. “He affirmed that the British and multinational coalition in Afghanistan had a long term engagement to help the country stabilise and progress,” a statement issued by the Foreign Office said.
The President informed him about the efforts of Pakistan to ensure that its territory was not used for acts of violence and terrorism inside Afghanistan and to promote stability and development in that country.
The British foreign secretary emphasised Britain’s commitment to lend its support to Pakistan’s efforts in addressing the challenges it faced as Pakistan was an important ally and friend, the statement said.
“The president and the British foreign secretary expressed satisfaction at the bilateral cooperation between the two countries and emphasised the need for further expansion of trade and investment activity,” it noted.