Pakistan asks US to consult Taliban for extension in Afghan exit
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Asad Majeed Khan has said that the US should first consult with the Taliban, followed by other stakeholders in the region, in case of any extension in the deadline for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
“If that is an agreement between the United States and Taliban, I think, the first party that needs to be consulted is Taliban and that is where this process should start. Then comes in other stakeholders in the region,” the ambassador said in a conversation with online forum sponsored by the Stimson Center.
Moderated by South Asia Deputy Director Elizabeth Threlkeld, this was the first public conversation of the ambassador after the new US administration came in, which encompassed Pak-US ties during Biden administration, the continued Afghan peace process, and bilateral economic cooperation.
He believed that if there was a strong justification and reasoning for having an extension for logistical or other reasons, parties should reach a common ground as had been done in the past.
“But to present this as a fait accompli, I think, will only create difficulty. It’s really also a question of the credibility of the United States,” he remarked.
He said though he heard nothing from the US officials rather just media commentary.
As far as the US administration is concerned, he said, they supported peace process and would take their allies into confidence after doing their internal consultation.
“It is really not a question of looking backward. I think it’s very important to look forward and looking forward means the ability of all the key parties, players and stakeholders to make the intra-Afghan negotiations process successful. For that, I think building and retaining trust between the key interlocutors is very important,” the ambassador stated.
Asad said going back on a commitment would not build trust and, if required, such a thing should be done within the framework of the peace process, rather than negotiated through media.
“Instead of telling them what to do, it is important to exchange views and to learn from each other… Instead of opening or reopening what has been already achieved, it’s important to focus on the Intra-Afghan negotiation process,” he urged.
Regarding the change of government in US, he said Biden administration had taken over in difficult time as a lot had been changed domestically, internationally and regionally.
He said as the new Biden Administration starts to determine its policy priorities, the Biden team would have to bring itself up to speed with the developments in the region. They will need to deal with a new and transformed Pakistan, he added.
He said the result of Pakistan’s six years long counter terrorism efforts were visible in form of improved security situation and having seen the previous situation, Biden would be in better position to judge the difference.
He said Imran Khan’s government was more focused on becoming more accountable, more transparent and more efficient government. Pakistan’s institutions like judiciary and media also showed activism to promote and protect minorities’ rights.
“This is what had changed in Pakistan,” he remarked.
About India, the ambassador said things had worsened there during last five years, like unilateral actions and human rights abuses in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and violations of UNSC resolutions. Moreover, the BJP government had been at war with own minorities as shown by incidents of lynching and citizenship amendment act.
Regarding the Pak-US economic cooperation, Ambassador Asad said the US corporate footprints in Pakistan was much bigger than most of the countries. The profit and rate of return of the US companies in Pakistan was three to four times of those operating outside. Even the US firms continued to expand when security situation was not good, he added.
The ambassador said in 2014, Karachi was at number six in terms of cumulative security but which moved to 54 in 2019.
“Karachi and particularly Islamabad are two of the safest cities in the wider neighborhood. Yet, the travel advisory on Pakistan hasn’t been revised and this becomes a disincentive for major international businesses.”
Citing Pakistan’s improved ranking in ease of doing business by 38 points, improved security, huge potential in form of young population and middle class with expanding purchasing power, he assured that Pakistan was committed to address the concerns of the US companies.
On Pakistan’s nuclear program, the ambassador said, “No US ally should be concerned about what we do with our nuclear program. Pakistan has shown restraint and responsibility and has complied with all security protocols. Pakistan’s nuclear program only has a regional context.”
“Pakistan wants to have a standalone relationship with the United States. All other relationships can complement the US-Pak relation, but we will not let the ups and downs of other relationships affect the US-Pak bilateral dynamic,” he remarked.
“The world has moved on. The age of hard alliances is over. The countries don’t just trade and invest with their partners and allies, but also their competitors, he said and exemplified trade volume of US-China, China-Japan and India-China trade.”
Calling the Daniel Pearl case an “unfortunate case”, the ambassador said Pakistan was committed to continue to availing all legal remedies to pursue the case and bring it to a logical conclusion.
About the “developing relationship” with Russia, the ambassador said the economic content, not the security one of this relationship, was getting bigger. He said Pakistan still conventionally relied more on US equipment and building any new anchors for relationship did not mean to be disregarding or moving away from US.