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us ambassador to pakistan, richard olson
US Ambassador in Pakistan Richard Olson. – Photo by AFP/File

PESHAWAR: Indicating a major shift in American policy, Ambassador Richard Olson has described North Waziristan — once dubbed the hub of Al Qaeda’s central leadership — as Pakistan’s ‘domestic’ security problem.

The ambassador also said his country did not see any contradiction between fighting and talking to the enemy at the same time.

“North Waziristan is a domestic security issue of Pakistan and the decision whether or not to conduct an operation (there) is entirely up to its government,” he told reporters at a briefing at the US Consulate here on Wednesday.

When it was pointed out that before the Afghan Taliban were allowed to open an office in Doha, the US started pressuring Pakistan to take action against the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, Mr Olson said that one could talk and fight at the same time.

“There is no contradiction in saying that there will be military pressure on the Taliban and simultaneously there is willingness to sit down and talk to them. We don’t see any reason that these cannot continue at the same time,” he said.

Mr Olson said that his recent meeting with Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman soon after the latter hosted a multi-party conference on talks with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was a “regular part of contacts with notables and politicians”.

He termed the meeting a courtesy call which coincided with the MPC and said that the Maulana had briefed him on the conference.

“The US does not have a position on these domestic discussions between TTP and the government,” he said.

When asked about the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project, a new irritant in the Pakistan-US relations, Ambassador Olson said that he avoided public diplomacy on sensitive topics.

“I don’t want to conduct diplomacy on sensitive topics through the media. It will be best for the sake of relationship between the two countries to conduct discussion on government to government basis,” he replied when asked about the possibility of sanctions and their nature if Pakistan continued work on the controversial project.

When a journalist pressed him on the matter, he said: “You can take a look at Section 6 (A) of the Comprehensive Iran Sanction, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, which is a publicly available document.”

Instead of directly opposing the gas pipeline project, Mr Olson chose to highlight several projects being financed by the US government to address energy issue in Pakistan.

He said that the US was providing help for refurbishment and rehabilitation of important power generating units — including thermal powerhouses at Tarbela and Mangla dams.