WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry reiterated that there was no military solution to the long-running war in Afghanistan while Pakistan would fully support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process to restore peace in the war-torn Country.
In a wide-ranging interview with the state-run news agency APP, the ambassador said in spite of current strains in Pakistan-US bilateral ties, there was a clear realization on both sides for the imperatives of working together in pursuit of shared objectives of eliminating terrorism and stabilizing Afghanistan. He said both Pakistan and the United States had high stakes in peace and stability in the region which was also critical to ensuring world peace.
Citing the long history of friendship between the two allies, he expressed the optimism that leadership in the two Countries would be able to find a common ground without compromising their vital national interests.
Talking about the recent developments in the bilateral ties in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s decision to cut-off security aid, the ambassador said he had met several Congressmen, Senators and other government officials, and many of them underlined the need for Pakistan and the US to work together for shared objectives.
The ambassador said despite a decision by the Trump administration to withhold security assistance, Pakistan would continue to assist the United States in supporting its troops in Afghanistan which were struggling to stem Taliban advances as it was important for fighting terrorism.
“Pakistan and the United States are fighting a common enemy,” the ambassador said. “We don’t have any choice but to work with each other for a common cause.”
But he emphasized that Pakistan couldnot be made a scapegoat for the US and Afghan failures.
“Pakistan also needs to have good relations with all countries including the United States but such relationship should be honorable and based on mutual respect,” the ambassador said.
Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said Pakistan had made it clear to Washington that it didn’t need any aid. He said the fact of the matter was, the US had been reimbursing expenses that Pakistan incurred in the fight against terrorism which was now withheld.
The ambassador said Pakistan suffered most from the menace of terrorism with colossal human and economic losses but that had steeled its resolve against terrorism.
“Resolute military operations in the tribal region along the Afghan border have reversed the tide of terrorism and terrorists are on the run,” he said.
The Pakistani envoy said those hiding were being chased through intelligence-based operation “Radd-ul-Fasaad”. Some terrorists took refuge in Afghanistan from where they now plotted action against Pakistani and the US troops in the region, he added.
To a question, the ambassador said Pakistan’s leverage over Taliban had eroded over time and while Islamabad would do all it could to facilitate a reconciliation process, “it would not help to raise the “expectations bar” too high. “We need peace in Afghanistan as much as the US or Afghanistan does. There cannot be peace in Pakistan without peace in Afghanistan,” he added.
Replying to a question, the ambassador said Pakistan’s political and military leadership were on the same page on the matters of national security, and cited a unified national response to the US aid-cut announcement.
When asked to comment on the US stance, the ambassador strongly refuted the allegations of Pakistan harboring terrorists and providing safe havens to any extremist group.
“There is a national consensus on defeating terrorism on the Country’s soil and the military has targeted all terrorist groups without any discrimination,” he said.
“Pakistan is squeezing space on those remaining who have morphed into Afghan refugee camps,” the ambassador said, adding Pakistan wanted to repatriate all Afghan refugees to their country as it was adding to the Country’s security challenges.
The ambassador observed that since the Pak-Afghan border was porous, many terrorists took advantage of that to move across the border on both sides.
As far as Pakistan was concerned, the government was now fencing the 800 kilometer fence-able stretch to control the 2600 kilometer border area and prevent any illegal cross-over, he added. Where fencing was not possible, Pakistan was setting up posts to man the border region, he added. To the contrary, he added, there was not a single Afghan soldier or post to man hundreds of kilometers of the border.
To a question, the ambassador said the Trump administration sought more Indian involvement in Afghanistan under its new South Asia strategy but, he added, instead India increased its intelligence presence in that Country which New Delhi was using against Pakistan.
Replying to a question about the apprehension as echoed by some quarters in the United States from time to time about the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into wrong hands, the ambassador categorically rejected any such insinuation.
Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said Pakistan had a strong command-and-control system for its nuclear weapons that was fully in place.
“Our nuclear program is purely for deterrence purpose and will never be compromised,” he said.