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November 21, 2013

No drone attacks during talks with TTP: Sartaj

Entertainment

WD
Web Desk
November 21, 2013

ISLAMABAD: The United States conveyed to Pakistan on Nov 2 that there would be no drone attacks on Taliban militants while they were talking to the Pakistan government.
This is the first time since the US started using drones inside Pakistani territory that such an assurance has come from Washington.When contacted for comments on claims to this effect made by Sartaj Aziz, the spokesperson of the US Embassy did not reject them outright. She told The News: “Yes, I have seen the statement made by Sartaj Aziz. At our end, I am looking into it.”
However, at this time there are no signs of talks between the government and Mullah Fazlullah, the new head of the Pakistani Taliban.Diplomatic sources said the US pledge came when US Ambassador Richard G Olson was summoned to the Foreign Office by Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani and told that “the latest drone strike will have a negative impact on the government’s initiative to undertake a dialogue with the TTP.”
The reassurance given by Washington was made public nearly three weeks later by the Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz on Wednesday, who told the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs that Washington had given an assurance that militants holding talks will not be targeted.
The government had expressed great anger against the US after the recent drone strike which killed Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, and stated that any chance of starting talks had been nipped in the bud.
The US had been taken aback by the reaction to Mehsud’s killing, specially since it threatened bilateral relations which had only recently been put back on the rails. With 2014 in sight, when the US starts to pull out of Afghanistan, it was not prepared to once again antagonise its ally.
Cabinet members, specially Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar, had severely criticised the drone strike and questioned the reason for killing Mehsud.“The timing (of taking out Mehsud) was

deliberate and this is the murder of progress for hope and peace in the region,” Nisar had stated.
Officials confirming diplomatic contacts in Islamabad when the US made the assurance said, “Pakistan was informed (of the US pledge not to drone Taliban militants during the talks process) while engaging with the United States through normal diplomatic contacts (in Islamabad).”
In fact, so incensed was the Nawaz Sharif government that Olson was firmly told that it had been decided to instruct Pakistani ambassadors in the capitals of the P-5 member states to call at an appropriate level to brief the host governments on Pakistan’s concerns, with specific reference to the setback caused to the government’s peace process initiative by the latest drone attack.
On November 2, after Olson was summoned, the Foreign Office spokesman in a statement had said: “The government of Pakistan has been raising itsconcern over the drone strikes with the US administration and at the United Nations. The prime minister during his recent visit to the US had raised the issue with President Obama and other senior US leaders.”Agencies add: Sartaj Aziz told the Senate body that at present, no talks were being held with Taliban militants.
He also talked about the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014 and said an unstable Afghanistan was not in Pakistan’s interest. In case of fighting, Afghan refugees would again flood Pakistan, he added.
Regarding the Prime Minister’s recent US visit, he said Pakistan was interested in trade not in aid and the same message was conveyed to the Americans. The visit was significant as it had enhanced bilateral relations between the two countries, he added.
He said new chief of Tahrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Mulla Fazlullah was in Afghanistan not in Pakistan.The meeting was attended by senators Syeda Sughara Imam, Farhatullah Babar and Dr Muhammad Jahangir Badar, besides Secretary Foreign Affairs Jilal Abbas Jilani.
Aziz said Pakistan has demanded release of Dr Afiya Siddique. He said that Dr Shakil Afridi has been provided legal assistance but Pakistan has made no promises with US regarding handing over Afridi to US authorities.