ISLAMABAD: The United States on Thursday launched a diplomatic push to pacify growing resentment in Pakistan over its new strategy for Afghanistan, saying that President Donald Trump did not blame Pakistan for the failure in Afghanistan.
The Trump administration also attempted to ally Pakistan’s fears on the growing Indian role in the war-torn country, saying it is cognisant of its feelings and willing to work with both the nuclear-armed neighbours to reduce tensions in the region.
The significant development came during a meeting between US Ambassador David Hale and National Security Advisor Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua.
This was the first time that the US attempted to placate the growing anger in Pakistan since Trump announced his new strategy for Afghanistan.
Trump, in his policy speech on August 21, singled out Pakistan for supporting what he called “agents of chaos, violence and terrorism”. The US president accused Pakistan of harbouring and supporting the Afghan Taliban while getting billions of dollars in aid to fight the very groups. He insisted that Pakistan would have to change that approach immediately or face the consequences.
Trump’s speech was perceived by many, including the Pakistani government and parliament, as a direct threat to the country’s sovereignty.
Both houses of parliament urged the government to consider counter measures, including suspending the crucial supply route for the US forces in Afghanistan. The strong reaction both at the government and public level appears to have prompted the US to address Pakistan’s concerns.
According to an official handout, Ambassador David Hale called on Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Janjua to discuss the new US strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia.
Clarifying the American stance, Ambassador Hale said the press had generally taken the policy piece-by-piece instead of interpreting it as a whole.
He claimed that President Trump did not blame Pakistan for its failure in Afghanistan. It was also wrong to assume that the policy recommended a purely military solution or that engagement with Pakistan had been ruled out, he said, adding that the military strategy was just one piece of the policy which espoused a political solution.
The policy, he added, supported the role of regional countries in a peaceful settlement where Pakistan had an important role to play.
He said the US was thinking of reviving and accelerating the four-nation initiative and the six-plus-one process on Afghanistan where Pakistan would have a leading role.
“The US recognised Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war on terror and hoped that it would continue to play its cooperative role,” he said.
The ambassador further clarified that additional troops in Afghanistan would be deployed as trainers of Afghan armed forces. “Enhanced authority for decision making given to field commanders meant quick action against all terrorist groups, including the TTP who are enemy of Pakistan,” he said.
“The Kabul government had also been called upon to realign itself for playing its full role in controlling the insurgency and winning over the hearts and minds of its people while improving its governance,” the ambassador underlined.
Regarding the role envisaged for India, the US envoy said the Trump administration was aware of the feelings in Pakistan on the matter and was ready to play its role in reducing tensions between the two neighbours. He clarified that India’s role was envisaged for economic development only.
Thanking the ambassador for the cooperative outlook, Lt Gen (retd) Janjua said that Pakistan was taking its time to fully examine the new policy and considering all options and would like to receive further details from the US side.
This notwithstanding, President Trump’s address at Fort Myers was disappointing and had deeply hurt the feelings of the government and the people of Pakistan, he said, adding that Pakistan had been wrongly blamed, threatened and negatively projected to the world which was unacceptable.
“Our nuclear weapons were wrongly linked with terrorism which was totally uncalled-for. The new policy has created uncertainties and further added to regional fragility and imbalance. That is why the people, the parliament and the government had sharply reacted to President Trump’s statement,” he said.
Lt Gen (retd) Janjua stressed the need for working together to stabilise Afghanistan. “We all should work together” to “seek the closure of the conflict” in Afghanistan instead of winning it, he said.
Victory in war, he said, resided in the way war was prosecuted. He identified faulty persecution of war in Afghanistan as the reason for the uptick in violence.
He went on to say that one should not try and win the war in Afghanistan by way of vengeance as “this will further spread the conflict and spiral things out of control”.
The US ambassador agreed with the suggestion to “seek the closure of conflict” in Afghanistan.
Regarding the role envisaged for India in Afghanistan, the Lt Gen (retd) Janjua said creation of competitiveness in a campaign and alliance is counter-productive. “We should not go that way,” he cautioned.
Reiterating the risks and dangers of a purely military strategy, he suggested establishment of a parallel, fully empowered political authority by the US in Afghanistan that would work parallel with the military commanders to help find a peaceful, political solution to the conflict and bring the perpetual conflict in Afghanistan to a quick closure that was in the best interest of all parties.
Lt Gen (retd) Janjua also clarified to the US ambassador that any kinetic action would further vitiate the situation and hence be avoided. Ambassador Hale agreed and said, “We rather need to normalise the situation.”
Lt Gen (retd) Janjua and the ambassador both reiterated to work very closely to find solution to seek the closure of this conflict in Afghanistan.
The Foreign Office spokesperson at a weekly press briefing attempted to play down the hype over the strains in ties between Pakistan and the US.
“In inter-state relations, there can be differences over issues between two countries, for which there would be established channels of communication through which misperceptions could be allayed and differences resolved,” Nafees Zakria told reporters.
He, however, strongly rejected ‘all allegations and insinuations’ regarding the presence of any safe havens for terrorists inside Pakistan.
“Gen Nicholson remarks, therefore, are highly unwarranted and unacceptable,” Zakria said while responding to a question about recent statement by the US commander about the Quetta and Peshawar Shuras of Afghan Taliban.
On foreign minister’s visit to US, the spokesperson said Pakistan was undertaking internal deliberations among all stakeholders as evident from the deliberations in parliament and discussions in the National Security Committee.
“The foreign minister intends to share Pakistan’s perspective on the elements of President Trump’s statement and other bilateral issues during his future interaction with the US leadership,” he added.
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