WASHINGTON: The United States is looking for a “follow-up way” to involve Pakistan in the Bonn conference on Afghanistan, said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while the Pentagon assured Islamabad on Wednesday that last week’s attack on Pakistani border posts was not intentional.
In a related development, the US State Department said that it had not suspended arms sales to Pakistan.
“As we do with all countries, pursuant to the Arms Export Control Act, the department reviews all requests for international arms transfers, and considers a number of factors to include regional security and policy concerns prior to making a decision on whether to proceed,” said a statement issued by the office of the spokesperson.
The department also released the transcript of Secretary Clinton’s remarks to reporters travelling with her in Southeast Asia, reflecting the US desire to encourage Pakistan to participate in an international conference on Afghanistan, which begins in Bonn on Monday.
“We hope that perhaps there can be a follow-up way that we can have the benefit of Pakistani participation in this international effort to try to work towards a stable, secure, peaceful outcome in Afghanistan,” she said. “Frankly, it is regrettable that Pakistan has decided not to attend the conference in Bonn, because this conference has been long in the planning,” said the top US diplomat.
And diplomatic sources in Washington said the US was trying to encourage “at least a low level” participation from Pakistan.
“Pakistan, like the United States, has a profound interest in a secure, stable, increasingly democratic Afghanistan. Our gathering in Bonn this coming Monday is intended to further that goal,” Secretary Clinton said. “Everyone knows Pakistan will be a major participant in what occurs in the future.” She acknowledged that the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a Nato airstrike last week was a tragedy but said both nations should move ahead. “What is most important, I think, is that we learn lessons from this tragedy, because we have to continue to work together,” she said.
“We have all said many times that terrorism and extremism in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region threatens both countries as well as the interests and citizens of many other countries across the world. Nothing will be gained by turning our backs on mutually beneficial cooperation.”
Briefing reporters at the Pentagon on the latest developments on the Pak-Afghan border, Navy Capt. George Little said Saturday’s incident was a tragedy but “it in no way should be considered intentional”.
A spokesman for the Pakistani military told reporters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday he believed the Nato raid on the Pakistani posts was deliberate but the Pentagon spokesman said the claim was “incorrect”.
He refused to say if the US had officially received Pakistan’s request to vacate the Shamsi airbase and if it had started preparations to leave the facility.
“We recognise how tough the situation is, but we are committed to working hard for a good, strong and strategic partnership with Pakistani military,” he said. “A cooperative relationship is in Pakistan’s own interest as well, and we have worked through such issues previously as well.”
Capt. Little pointed out that the US leadership, at its highest levels, had expressed regrets and apology over the incident, but he was not aware of a formal apology to satisfy the Pakistanis.
“Pakistan has every right to be furious about the death of its personnel, and make sovereign decisions,” he said. “Pakistan has made its stance clear publicly and we have also made our position clear to work and move beyond this.”
Responding to a question, the Pentagon spokesman said it was incorrect to assume that the US and Pakistan were engaged in secret negotiations to strike a deal on this issue.
Meanwhile, a senior US lawmaker said United States should apologise to Pakistan if an official investigation showed that the Nato airstrikes were “a mistake”.
Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein’s comments came before her panel received an in-camera briefing from Lt-Gen Ronald Burgess, director of the US Defence Intelligence Agency, on the attacks. “I’m one who believes that, if we made a mistake, we should admit it, we should apologise,” the Senator said. But “if we didn’t make a mistake, and the other side was the first one to fire on us, we’re going to respond”, she said.