Pakistan, US move ahead– from “non-communication’ to “mutual assurances”

The Uni­ted States has assured Pakistan that no unilateral action on its territory is being planned despite suspension of military aid and a flurry of hostile statements starting with Trump’s caustic tweet on the New Year’s day.

The assurance was given by Centcom Commander Gen Joseph Votel to Pak Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa during his telephonic conversation last week.

The Military’s public affairs division Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Friday released details of Gen Bajwa’s recent contacts with the US leaders. The army chief, it is said, was contacted by Gen Votel and an unnamed senator to defuse tensions after Trump’s tweet accusing Pakistan of lying and being deceitful towards the US kicked off a fire storm across Pakistan.

Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan appear to have alienated Nato allies, which still have troops in Afghanistan, however, China, Russia, Iran and Turkey have stood up for Islamabad.

The three key messages conveyed by the Centcom chief were that the problems in ties were temporary; there would be no unilateral action against Pakistan, and that the US did not want a disruption in ties rather it wanted cooperation from Islamabad on areas of its concern.

The calls, according to the ISPR, were for discussing “Pak-US security cooperation post President Trump tweet”.

Pakistan and the US are said to be communicating “with each other on various issues of mutual interest at different levels”, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal a day earlier told reporters at his weekly media briefing.

According to Reuters, the US Centcom did not comment on the content of the conversation between Gen Votel and Gen Bajwa. But it said the US military was in “continuous communication” with Pakistan’s military, to include recurring conversations between the two.

“We value mutual understanding of interests and concerns that we need to consider and might lead to a positive path forward,” US Central Command spokesman Air Force Colonel John Thomas said.

Possibility of a unilateral action by the US was key concern in Islamabad, especially after a Pentagon report on Afghanistan last month mentioned “unilateral steps in areas of divergence”.

The ISPR said Gen Votel told the army chief that the “US values Pakistan’s role towards war on terror and expected that ongoing turbulence remains a temporary phase. He also conveyed COAS that US is not contemplating any unilateral action inside Pakistan but is seeking cooperation to tackle Afghan nationals who, in US view, use Pakistan’s soil against Afghanistan”.

The broader contours of Gen Bajwa’s response shared with the US, as per the ISPR, included a commitment to continuing its operations against terrorism and an acknowledgment of the US concerns about the presence of Afghan militants.

“Pakistan is fully aware of US concerns on activities of Afghan nationals in Pakistan and we are already undertaking multiple actions through Operation Raddul Fasaad to deny any residual capacity to terrorists of all hue and colour for which return of Afghan refugees is an essential prerequisite,” Gen Bajwa was quoted as having told Gen Votel.

He told the American general that that the “entire Pakistani nation felt betrayed” over the US statements, but insisted Pakistan would continue to support peace efforts in the region despite being made a “scapegoat”.

Pakistan would not seek to unfreeze the funding, but did “expect honourable recognition of our contributions, sacrifices and unwavering resolve in fight against terrorism”, he said, adding that Pakistan would continue the counterterrorism operations without US’s financial support.

Gen Bajwa also communicated Pakistan’s expectations from the US, which included making Afghanistan agree to border control management and recognition of Pakistan’s sacrifices in the fight against terrorism.

“Pakistan is also strengthening border controls unilaterally but if Afghanistan genuinely feels affected from Pakistan, bilateral border management must be Kabul’s top priority as well,” Gen Bajwa said.

Afghanistan has been opposed to the border management because of its reservations over accepting the Durand Line as the international border.

And many in Pakistan, especially the army, are deeply concerned that Mr Trump’s calls last year to tighten ties to India and partner with it in Afghanistan could lead to Pakistan being surrounded by its neighbour and perennial enemy.

According to Defense analyst Ahmed Rashid writing in the Financial Times, “In tapping out that morning tweet on January 1 attacking Pakistan for “lies & deceit”, Mr Trump appeared to have no idea of the political fall out for the region and no strategy for dealing with it.”

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