Pakistan has important role in region: Tillerson

WASHINGTON: In an effort to make up with Pakistan, the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, on Wednesday acknowledged that the two countries have an “extraordinarily important” relationship and many of the same issues that Pakistan is struggling with are our issues. He said Pakistan has an important role in the region.

The secretary had an early meeting with Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif at the State Department. The two leaders discussed the bilateral issues as well as cooperation mechanism to root out terrorism and differences on US President Donald Trump’s Afghan policy.

“As we rolled out the South Asia strategy, we spoke about it in a regional context. It is not just about Afghanistan,” Tillerson emphasised. He added that “this is about the importance of Pakistan and Pakistan’s long-term stability as well.”

President Trump announced his Afghan policy late last month but also alleged that Pakistan was providing “safe havens to agents of chaos, violence and terror”. During his speech, Trump also threatened that the US can “no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe-havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.”

Pakistan took a serious note of it and immediately cancelled follow-up meetings with American officials. The ice broke when the prime minister pushed Pakistan’s point of view across in a meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence late last month in New York. The meeting between Khawaja Asif and Secretary Tillerson was the first high-level engagement since then. After the meeting, Secretary Tillerson also said the US has concerns about the future of Pakistan’s government. “We want their government to be stable and we want it to be peaceful.” He declared that “many of the same issues they’re struggling with inside of Pakistan are our issues.” He called the meeting an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.

“We are going to be working very hard at all levels, from the State Department to the Defence Department to our intelligence communities, as well as economic, commerce, opportunities as well,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s partnership with the US was critical and it was the administration’s regional approach for the long-term stability of the region.

The foreign minister, on the other hand, also stated that Pakistan and the US shared a common desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region at large. He said that Pakistan sought a broad-based relationship with the United States, building on a seven decades long history of successful cooperation.

According to the statement issued by the embassy here, the foreign minister in his meeting pointed out that Pakistan was winning its war against terrorism. He made clear that Pakistan has pursued a zero tolerance and indiscriminate approach in its campaign against all terrorist and militant groups. “He informed the secretary of state with regard to the strong public reaction in Pakistan to the pronouncement of US administration’s South Asia policy — based on inadequate recognition of Pakistan’s sterling contribution in the fight against terrorism. He added that in addition to huge human and material cost incurred by Pakistan, our cultural ethos as a moderate state had suffered due to protracted instability in Afghanistan,” the statement said.

“Secretary Tillerson acknowledged and appreciated the sacrifices rendered by the people and armed forces of Pakistan in the struggle against terrorism. He agreed that cooperation between Pakistan and the United States in Afghanistan was crucial to achieving durable peace and stability in the region. He remarked that Pakistan’s interests and concerns will be accommodated since its role was critical to President Trump’s South Asia strategy. He added that future stability of Pakistan was an important element of the strategy,” the statement further said.

The foreign minister reiterated Pakistan’s position on the need for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political approach to achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan. He conveyed Pakistan’s concerns with regard to ungoverned spaces within Afghanistan, from which attacks against Pakistan continued to be planned and carried out.

Khawaja Asif also invited Secretary Tillerson to visit Islamabad to continue their discussions. The foreign minister stressed that a broad-based and structured framework for dialogue would best serve the two countries’ mutual interests. The secretary accepted the invitation.





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