Pakistan yesterday asked the US to target Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants who are using Afghanistan soil to destabilise it, as officials from both sides held meetings to salvage bilateral relationship between the war-on-terror allies.
The sinusoidal ties between Islamabad and Washington hit another low when the US violated Pakistan’s sovereignty by killing Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mansour Akhtar in a drone strike in Balochistan three weeks ago.
Pakistan has taken a strong stance over the issue, making it clear to the US that their alliance for peace cannot move forward in an atmosphere of huge trust deficit.
“Pakistan will not allow Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies to foment terrorism in the country” was the clear message conveyed by Army Chief General Raheel to the US high officials who called on him at GHQ Rawalpindi on Friday.
The visiting team included Commander Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan General John Nicholson, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson and Senior Adviser and Director for South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council Dr Peter Lavoy.
Almost the same message was conveyed in a meeting of Olson and Lavoy earlier the same day with Adviser to PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, showing that both military and civilian governments were on same page.
In the meeting, which was also participated by US ambassador to Pakistan David Hale, the Pakistani officials told the US side that any future drone strike inside the country could ruin the relationship between the two uneasy allies.
At the GHQ meeting, Genral Raheel expressed his serious concern on the US drone strike in Balochistan calling it a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and highlighted how it had impacted the mutual trust and respect, according to an ISPR statement.
Raising the demand of targeting TTP and its chief Mullah Fazlullah in their bases in Afghanistan, the COAS reiterated Pakistan’s resolve not to allow hostile intelligence agencies’ efforts, especially Indian RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and Afghanistan’s NDS (National Directorate of Security), of fomenting terrorism.
The army chief also told them that it was highly counter-productive in consolidating the gains of Pakistan Army’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb, being conducted in the country’s northwestern areas along the Afghan border.
According to sources, the US delegation visited Pakistan to seek cooperation on plans approved by President Obama which seeks to attack Afghan Taliban through intense US airpower.
However, the Pakistan leadership made it clear to the US officials that Pakistan would cooperate with the US and Afghan forces only after they took TTP chief and other militants in their hideouts in Afghanistan.
Analysts and experts said the new US plan would not make much difference, as the Taliban would again be using the densely populated areas as their shields as they used to do in the past to avoid the US air strikes.
They believed that in such situation airstrikes would not be effective tool to take out militants because they control vast areas in Afghanistan and tactically use the densely populated areas as shields.
All efforts for durable peace in the region have to be synergised with shared commitment and responsibility in order to make them successful, the statement quoted General Raheel as telling the US top officials.
“Blaming Pakistan for instability in Afghanistan is unfortunate”, he added.
Raheel said while Zarb-e-Azb was launched against terrorists of all hues and during the course dismantled the sanctuaries of terrorists without discrimination, all the stakeholders need to understand Pakistan’s challenges with regard to porous (Afghan) border, inter-tribal linkages and decades-old presence of over 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
The Army chief reaffirmed the need for continuing harmonised efforts against terrorists and effective border management as ways to regional peace and stability.
He said Pakistan is committed to work for a long-term peace process for Afghanistan under the framework of the QCG (Quadrilateral Cooperation Group).
The tensions between Pakistan and the US surged after the Balochistan drone strike and were further fuelled by US’ growing defence tie with India, especially a blanket support for India’s candidacy in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
There are differences over nuclear programme of Pakistan which the Pakistan considers is key to the ‘credible minimum deterrence.
’ The previous day, Sartaj Aziz said growing US-India ties were creating strategic instability as Washington’s support for Indian membership for the 48-nation NSG was discriminatory.
Islamabad and Washington also have difference over handling of peace issue in Afghanistan while Pakistan is also unhappy over the scuttling of F-16 fighter jets deal by US Congress which blocked funding to it citing Pakistan’s “non-impressive” actions against Haqqani network.
But Islamabad believed the Congress was prompted to act due to Indian lobbying and pressure.
An official statement issued after yesterday’s Foreign Office meeting of Adviser Aziz and Foreign Secretary Aizaz with the US team said ‘candid discussions’ were held on bilateral relations, regional security situation and the Afghan peace process in the wake of May 21 drone strike in Balochistan.
Sartaj Aziz, it said, conveyed a strong message to the US that the May 21 drone strike was not only a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and breach of the principles of the UN Charter but has also “vitiated bilateral ties”.
The statement added: “It was emphasised that any future drone strike in Pakistan will be detrimental to our common desire to strengthen relations.
Aziz further expressed his concern that the drone strike had seriously undermined the ongoing efforts for Afghan peace and reconciliation process at a time when Pakistan, along with other QCG member countries, was engaged in serious efforts to revive peace talks between Afghan government and the Taliban.
Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry recalled that in QCG’s fifth meeting on May 18, 2016, it was decided that peace negotiations remained the only option for a political settlement.
He emphasised this would require collective efforts on the part of all QCG members to promote lasting peace in Afghanistan.
In response to US queries on safe havens for Taliban, it was emphasised that Pakistan is already pursuing its objective of eliminating all militants and terrorists from its soil in accordance with the National Action Plan.
At the same time, Pakistan would have to safeguard its own security through better border management and early repatriation of Afghan refugees, it said.
Pakistan also expected action by Afghan forces against TTP operatives in Afghanistan.
These steps would also help promote better relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and reduce mistrust.
Peter Lavoy, while conveying President Obama’s good wishes for PM Nawaz Sharif’s speedy recovery, said that US president was committed to improving relations with Pakistan as emphasised during prime minister’s visit to Washington in October 2015, said the statement.
Other officials said the US persisted with its ‘do more’ mantra and asked Pakistan to prove its sincerity in the war on terror.
“The US delegation believed they had reasons to doubt Pakistan and insisted Pakistan had to do more to win the Washington’s confidence,” a senior official privy to the meeting said.
He said Pakistan did present its case and the two sides agreed to continue talks to improve ties and build trust.
Sources said Pakistan had strongly conveyed its concerns to the US over drone strikes “It was made clear that Pakistan made sincere efforts for Afghan peace process, but the drone strike sabotaged this development,” one official said, adding Pakistan also complained against US’ discriminatory attitude over the NSG membership.
Aziz seeks Mexican support for NSG:
In a relevant development yesterday, Sartaj Aziz telephoned Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu to seek support for NSG membership and highlighted Pakistan’s credentials for it.
Mexican foreign minister expressed support for a non-discriminatory approach on NSG expansion to non-NPT states, the foreign ministry said.