WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 (APP):Describing his meetings with top officials from the Trump administration as “engaging and forward looking”, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Wednesday that Pakistan and the United States need to bridge the trust deficit and build on their history of cooperation for achieving shared objectives, including peace and stability in war-torn Afghanistan.
“I am going back with positive view of hope and change,” he said while speaking at an event organized by the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. “Individually, we might not be able to achieve what we want to. Collectively, in my opinion, we can.”
Foreign Minister Qureshi described his meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton as engaging and forward looking and said the two countries need to build on their history of cooperation.
“We have to trust each other,” the Minister said, adding that history is witnessed to the fact that both countries benefitted when they worked together, be it Cold War, Soviet invasion or decimation of al-Qaida.
The Minister said that there had been highs and lows in bilateral relations and the past two years had been difficult, but the two countries have to rebuild and improve relations to achieve collective objectives of peace, reconciliation and stability.
Referring to the criticism Pakistan has faced in US circles, the Minister described it as unfair and said that Pakistan’s contribution to the success of the US in Afghanistan has not be recognized. He said Pakistan’s support saved the US billions of dollars.
The Minister said that over 500,000 US containers went through Pakistan to Afghanistan over the years and were treated as diplomatic cargos. As many as 950 al-Qaida terrorist were killed and Pakistan handed over more than 1100 terrorists to the United States.
Minister Qureshi said that it was unfair to blame Pakistan for all the difficulties in Afghanistan, adding that Pakistan could not and should not be held responsible for failure in Afghanistan. He said that Afghanistan had its own problems, which contributed to the situation there. “Collectively we can achieve shared objectives. Blame game will not be productive.”
While, there are allegations of safe havens in Pakistan, the Minister said there were safe havens across the border in Afghanistan which was of concern to Islamabad. Citing reports about 87 percent increase in narcotics in Afghanistan, he said that was an issue of concern to Pakistan.
The Minister invited US Congressmen to come to Pakistan and visit areas of their choice in the Tribal belt to see for themselves the change that has been made possible by the country’s relentless fight against terrorism.
He offered the US lawmakers to pick areas where they want to go and the government will facilitate their visit to see if there were any safe havens there. “It is important if they go and see and form an opinion,” he added.
Reiterating Pakistan’s position on the Afghan issue, the Minister said we want to see a democratic, progressive, peaceful and inclusive government in Afghanistan, adding that it was for the Afghan government to decide that. “We have no favorites in Afghanistan,” he added.
The Minister said that there were still 2.7 million refugees in Pakistan and the government believes that their return in a time-bound manner will contribute to peace and stability in Pakistan.
He spoke about the initiative of Afghanistan, Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) launched in July this year that provides a structured and institutionalized mechanism for continuing dialogue to address the issues between the two countries. “If we want peace and stability in Afghanistan, then good neighborly relations are critical, “ the Minister said.
The Minister said that in spite of problems and the continuing provocation on the country’s Eastern border, Pakistan has deployed 200,000 on its Western border with Afghanistan and the military operations carried out in the tribal areas have been recognized as successful.
He said there was a new government in Pakistan, which has a people-centric agenda of socio-economic development but, he added, it was only possible if there was peace and stability on both sides of the border. “We want peace and stability; that is the priority.”
The Foreign Minister said that fortunately, there was a new convergence taking place as all sides – Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States – were looking for a negotiated, political solution. Pakistan’s government and Prime Minister Imran Khan had been advocating for a negotiated solution for long, he added. “This new convergence that is in the making is a great opportunity and should not be missed.”
Underscoring Pakistan’s efforts in the fight against terrorism, the Minister said that the country had made considerable progress, which has not happened overnight. He said that Pakistan had achieved success against terrorism, because there was a shift in public opinion, formed after terrorists targeted schoolchildren and attacked forces and innocent people.
He said that this new debate led to the National Action Plan against terrorists as all Pakistanis agreed that we have to take them on. He said that because of the political consensus, it was possible to make a constitutional amendment to set up the National Action Plan.
The Minister said this shift in Pakistan should be recognized, adding that disengagement was not the way forward and what required was the continued cooperation. Alluding to the suspension of security aid to Pakistan, he said that cutting off training and not giving precision equipment that could be used against terrorist will not help the fight against terrorism.
The Minister said that such an approach had not helped in the last one year and there was a need to adopt a different approach. “Yes, we have a trust deficit…it must be bridged,” the Minister said adding that both Pakistan and the US more or less have same strategy to achieve shared objectives and the two countries must trust each other.
The Minister also briefed media at the Pakistan Embassy at the conclusion of his visit to the United States during which he represented Pakistan at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly.
He told reporters that his visit to Washington was very successful, adding that he was able to convince the top US officials and lawmakers that the cooperation between Pakistan and the United States was must to achieve success in Afghanistan. The Minister said that it was essential for the two countries to improve their relations.
The Minister said that he has directed Ambassador Ali Siddiqui to help revive Pakistan’s Caucus in Congress and there has to be at least 50 Senators and lawmakers in the group.
Responding to a question, the Minister said whenever there was talk about Dr. Shakeel Afridi case, there was talks about Dr. Afia Siddiqui. He said any decision on Dr. Afridi has to be in accordance with the country’s laws.
After the press briefing, the Minister left Washington to return home.