WASHINGTON: The new US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson says he was excited to go to Pakistan but will talk about his strategy once he is sworn in.He told The News he has been waiting to join his new post and excited to start working. He said he plans to go to Pakistan in mid October. He will be sworn in soon.
The US Senate Saturday confirmed by voice vote Richard Olson to serve as envoy to Pakistan. The move had been blocked by Senator Rand Paul, who had introduced a bill, asking the Obama administration to pressurize Pakistan into releasing Dr Shakil Afridi.
The bill was thrown out after scoring an embarrassingly low number of votes. A day before the vote Senator Paul wrote a letter to Senate and House members asking to support the bill. However, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the influential Foreign Relations Committee, had earlier announced that a majority of the Congress does not believe in cutting aid to Pakistan. He was of the view that the US urgently needs a full ambassador in such a critical role. The defeat of the bill lifted the month-long hold up on Olson’s approval.
After the nomination in July, Olson went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing and declared that working with Islamabad on squeezing the Haqqani network would be one of his top priorities.
He said he wanted to focus on the mutual concerns and interests and would try to facilitate the relationship. Two weeks after his appearance, the state department declared the Haqqani network as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Oslon, talking to The News, declined to comment on his strategy to engage with the Pakistani authorities. He said he would talk business after he joins the post.
Meanwhile, Pakistan intends to play the role of a facilitator in the soon to be held trilateral core group meeting. The group includes Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States, with the objectives to attain reconciliation in Afghanistan. Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that Pakistan’s assistance is vital to ensure peace and stability in the region. Khar emphasized that Pakistan fears a “security vacuum” that may occur when Western forces exit Afghanistan. “The best possible scenario we can think of in 2014 is that elections take place in Afghanistan, all Afghan groups participate,” she said.
Talking to the media at the Embassy on Friday, after wrapping up her four day long trip here, Hina Rabbani Khar said she had a more than two-hour long meeting with Secretary Clinton where they discussed bilateral and regional issues. She said that a roadmap for cooperation between the two countries has been discussed and an intensive engagement with the US will follow. Both leaders agreed that at least five working groups will meet in the coming three months to discuss further details. These groups include Security, Counterterrorism and Law Enforcement, Non-Proliferation, Energy and Water, and Economic and Finance. She said she sees convergence of interest amid challenges. She announced that Pakistan-US relations have now normalized after many troubled months. She claimed that the trust between the two countries has started to build again.
The Foreign Minister said Pakistan maintains its position on drone strikes and concerns were raised. She repeated in her meetings with the US officials that the drone strikes were “illegal, unlawful and counterproductive”. She elaborated her point, saying that unilateral strikes in the tribal region of Pakistan make it look like an “imposed war.” Pakistan had asked for sharing the drone technology in the past, but the request was not entertained. Pakistan lately asked the US to discuss alternatives as well. Answering a related question, the foreign minister said that the drones are illegal only “as far as not operated by Pakistan army.”