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ISLAMABAD: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson got a frosty welcome to Pakistan on Tuesday after Washington turned up the heat on Islamabad for allegedly providing "safe havens" for Taliban militants.
America’s top diplomat was quietly greeted by a mid-level Pakistani Foreign Office official and the US Ambassador David Hale at the Nur Khan Airbase in Rawalpindi, an AFP photographer saw -- a welcome that, while marked with smiles, was devoid of the pomp that usually accompanies high-level visits.
The whirlwind visit of Tillerson to Islamabad amid “Do-More” and “No-More” calls hardly produced any positive outcome except agreement on continuation of engagement. He met Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who has shown interest in moving ahead with the US and talked of economic relations.
The visitor asked for acceleration of actions against terror while Islamabad has reminded the US interlocutor to acknowledge Pakistan’s efforts and sacrifices for eradication of terror across the face of globe. The US secretary of state delivered the message in line with the Trump doctrine on South Asia reminding the importance of fighting extremists.
The secretary had 200-minute stopover in Islamabad after traveling to Iraq and a surprise visit to Afghanistan amid strict secrecy. He met here with Prime Minister Abbasi in the presence of Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir, Special Assistant Miftah Ismail and Secretary to PM Fawad Hasan Fawad, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and DG ISI Lieutenant General Naveed Mukhtar here at the Prime Minister’s House.
Tillerson was of the view that Pakistan is “so important regionally to our joint goals of providing peace and security to the region and providing opportunity for greater economic relationship.” Prime Minister Abbasi reconfirmed that Pakistan is “committed to the war against terror. We have produced results and we are looking forward to moving ahead with the US and building a tremendous relationship.” He reminded that “the US can rest assured that we are strategic partners in the war against terror and that today Pakistan is fighting the largest war in the world against terror. We appreciate the understandings that we agreed and we appreciate the engagement.”
A day earlier in Afghanistan, Tillerson had said that Pakistan's cooperation on counter-terrorism is essential for a good relationship with the US. His comments echoed those of other top US officials who have been pressing Pakistan on the matter. He said Pakistan needs to “take a clear-eyed view” of its position and act. “Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organisations that find safe haven inside of Pakistan,” he said. “So we want to work closely Pakistan to create a more stable and secure Pakistan as well.”
Tillerson told the Pakistani delegation that the nuclear-armed nation was an important US ally in the region. “Pakistanis important regionally to our joint goals of providing peace and security to the region and providing opportunity for greater economic relationship as well,” he said.
Tillerson, who is on a tour to regional countries, is the first high-ranking American official to travel to Islamabad after Trump unveiled his so-called strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia in August. The new policy -- which envisages greater emphasis on the use of force and points a finger at Pakistan for “not doing enough” against certain militant groups -- has caused strains in ties between Pakistan and the United States.
Trump’s strategy envisages a greater role for India in Afghanistan -- something that Pakistan vehemently opposes citing security concerns. Pakistani officials have repeatedly said that Indian spy agency RAW is using the Afghan soil to destabilise Pakistan through terrorism.
Tillerson visited Pakistan on the invitation of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif who visited Washington early this month on Tillerson’s invitation. The Foreign Office sources said that the discussions were focused on improving security and economic relations but “cooperation against militants was prominent during talks”. The sources reminded that another step forward took place in ties with the US when the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and the US held its meeting last week in Oman after a hiatus of over a year to help start peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban. The US also met a major demand of Pakistan for action against militants operating against it from Afghanistan when a drone strike killed the chief of Jamaatul Ahrar Umar Khalid Khurasani last week.
Earlier, while addressing the employees and staff of the US embassy at the US diplomatic compound, Tillerson said Pakistan has an incredibly important role in its South Asia strategy. “The country is very important to us. The security, the stability of the country is very important to us. And many of the solutions to the regional challenges are -- have to be found here as well in dealing with the leadership in Pakistan, and so we’re here to have further discussions about that,” he said.
David Hale hosted the function and introduced his team to the secretary. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said that Pakistan, in the meeting with Tillerson, made it clear that no terrorist safe havens exist on Pakistani soil.
Speaking on Geo News programme Aaj Shahzaib Khanzada Kay Sath, the minister said that in the meeting with Tillerson earlier in the day, the civil and military leadership presented a detailed narrative about its stance on the country’s war against terrorism.
In response to a question about the conditions put forward by the US for Pakistan, the minister said that Tillerson emphasised on the need for Pakistan to deal with the Haqqani network and terrorists’ safe havens on its soil.
“Terrorist attacks are not planned on or executed from Pakistani soil, there are no terrorist safe havens in Pakistan, and we made this clear to the US delegation today,” Asif said, insisting that the Pakistani leadership firmly holds on to the stance that it is not protecting or supporting the Haqqani network.
“We emphasised again and again that their (US) assessment (about Pakistan) is wrong,” he said. “We are not responsible for the increase in the drug trade in Afghanistan or the increasing (Afghan) territory occupied by terrorists.”
He insisted that even if Pakistan were to be blamed, it could not be involved in any of the deep-rooted issues that exist in its neighbouring country beyond the borders joining the two countries. “Who is responsible for all the issues that exist in Afghan territory?” Asif said. “Where are the coalition forces when a truck (full of explosives) successfully reaches its target in the heart of the country and blows up?”
He said, “Our armed forces and law enforcement agencies have taken action, we have yielded results and will continue to do so but not for Afghan or American interest.” He said Pakistan’s fight against terrorism is its own and the “results we yield are our win”.
Asif said that the country’s leadership thinks that sending Afghan refugees back is a plausible solution to the security situation in the region. “We asked them to send the refugees back and then hold us accountable if any security lapses occur,” the minister said, adding that Pakistan is already actively engaged in border management and fencing.
He said the purpose of a joint meeting of the civil and military leadership with the US secretary of state and his delegation was to convey a united narrative of the country.
“It was a deliberate move and a coordinated effort from civil and military leadership to have a joint meeting in an effort to convey a single, united narrative from the country,” Asif said. “We want to convey national unity from the very top.”
Our correspondent adds: Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani said the Parliament, rejects the tone and tenor and statements like viceroys issued by Rex Tillerson and asked Khawaja Asif to come to the Senate today (Wednesday) for a briefing.
“Before coming to Pakistan from Afghanistan, he (Tillerson) said a lot…he should not talk like a viceroy and his statement is not acceptable,” he contended. The Senate chairman pointed out that the tone and tenor of Tillerson was not acceptable and he must go through the recommendations made by the Parliament, which had made specified in unequivocal terms that how relations between the two countries could be carried forward.
“We’d no idea that government has accepted the conditions set by the US, and we got to know about it when Tillerson revealed it. If the Parliament is not aware of the conditions, who else should know about them,” he lamented.
Rabbani also asked the law and justice minister to clarify a statement by Attorney General for Pakistan, who told the Supreme Court that the Senate is reluctant to pass NAB Ordinance, 2017, which, he said, is misleading and incorrect. He said that the bill was presented before the Senate, and it had been recommended to the concerned standing committee for further consideration, which reported back on April 11, 2016 with recommendation to pass the bill.
“There is no delay on part of the Senate as it is the government which is yet to bring the bill on the agenda of the day as it is a government bill,” he emphasised.
Law and Justice Minister Zahid Hamid accepted that it was not the fault of Senate and he would clarify the statement of the AGP, as there were issues, especially to strike down the plea bargain clause from the ordinance, which led to the delay.
Speaking on a point of public importance, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman demanded resignation of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, saying a man, who is not allowed to sign his personal cheques, in no way deserves to act as finance minister of the country.
Another PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar proposed that the recovered missing persons be allowed to depose Senate committee in confidence and also replacing the six years old Commission on Enforced Disappearances headed by Justice (R) Javed Iqbal, with a new one. He said that journalist Zeenat Shahzadi and rights activist Punhal Sario had been released from captivity last week but they were too scared to talk about their ordeal like all those who have been through it in the past.
He also called for making public the report of the first 2010 Commission under late Justice Mansoor Kamal which worked for only one year. On the issue of accountability, he said the Parliament had a unique opportunity to remove glaring anomalies in the existing NAB law that was misused for political re-engineering.
Raza Rabbani said that he would think about it that what can be done about appearance of missing persons to share their ordeal with the Senate Committee on Human Rights after their recovery.
Meanwhile, the House unanimously passed ‘The Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2017’ to ensure protection to whistle-blowers who disclose any information in public interest.
The bill, already passed by the National Assembly, was presented in Senate by Zahid Hamid. The bill tackles certain contemporary issues related to modern-day economic crimes, including money-laundering, fraud, embezzlement, kickbacks, commission and other forms of corruption and corrupt practices which have become increasingly complex and therefore difficult to investigate and prosecute.
The bill allows disclosure to be made by any person before a competent authority if it is in public interest. However under Section 6 of the bill, disclosure on the matters that affect sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan; the security, strategic or economic interests of the country and relations with foreign states is prohibited.