WASHINGTON - In what amounted to be a general endorsement of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s policies, the United States on Thursday backed his government’s move to open a dialogue with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan aimed at restoring peace and tranquillity, saying there was a strong domestic consensus behind trying a negotiated approach.
“He (Prime Minister Sharif) indicated his intentions (to hold talks with the TTP) and we indicated our support,” the official said in a background briefing for the Pakistani media about the outcome of Nawaz’s four-day visit to Washington during which he had talks with President Barack Obama and other administration officials.
The official, who was asked about the US response to Pakistan’s initiative, said there was no problem with the aims laid out in the negotiated approach.
Just before flying back to Pakistan, the premier told the media that the US was informed that Islamabad had made a conscious decision on holding talks with the TTP as part of efforts to contain militancy and that Washington should support the decision.
The US official said, “It is his decision. We are not trying to steer him in one direction or another. We certainly have no objections that there is a strong domestic consensus in at least trying a negotiated approach.”
“As we understand the conditions are that the TTP has to accept the Constitution and the rule of law, and of course we accept those objectives. We support those objectives,” the official added.
Senior State Department and other administration officials said in their talks with the media that the prime minister’s election and assumption of power offered a ‘renewed’ opportunity for the two countries to discuss the continued key bilateral relationship and that the visit was marked by ‘warmth, breadth and honesty in fulsome discussions’.
The senior US officials said President Barack Obama appreciated Prime Minister Sharif’s resolve to address challenges facing Pakistan including eliminating terrorism and militancy on the Afghan border as well as his commitment to seek peace with neighbours India and Afghanistan.
A State Department official said the Pakistani side agreed that violence along the Line of Control in disputed Kashmir region is a major obstacle to progress in relationship with India.
The official said that while discussing his talks with Indian counterpart, Nawaz Sharif spoke about addressing the issue of Kashmir, LoC violations, through a mechanism involving directors general of military operations but also asked the United States to encourage continued progress of Pak-India dialogue.
In response, the United States pledged to use its influence towards that end. “We very much support improvements in this (Pakistan-India) relationship and we’ll continue to use our influence with both governments to encourage them to move in that direction.”
Responding to a question on the contentious issue of drone strikes, the US carries out on Pakistani soil, the senior American official said Prime Minister Sharif “raised the drone issue in (both) public and private” discussions. However, the official did not elaborate the US response on the issue.
The senior officials reaffirmed strong and continued support for Pakistani efforts to curb militancy and terrorism for peace and stability in the region. “Pakistan will continue to receive substantial economic and security assistance as it continues to pursue these objectives.”
The senior Obama administration official said it was clear during the discussions that the United States shares Pakistan’s interest in becoming a stable and democratic country.
Pakistan also raised the issue of Afghan soil being used against it, the official said. “I think the Pakistani concern is mostly the use of Afghan territory by both India and Afghanistan for that matter,” the official said. It is a sort of reverse sanctuary, the official remarked.
“We made clear that we are against the use of proxies, that we oppose cross-border militancy that this (opposition) is something in the interest of all countries in the region. And we are communicating that message to all of the countries.”
“They indicated that they were concerned about neighbours – the focus was on the use of Afghan territory,” the US official noted, in reference to Pakistani concerns with regard to troubles in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwah provinces.
The US officials also confirmed that the prime minister raised the issue of jailed Pakistani scientist Dr Aafia Siddiqui, without elaborating.
TALKS ON AaFIA’S RETURN
NO MORE: US
Monitoring Desk adds: There is no discussion going on between Pakistan and US regarding return of two prisoners, including Aafia Siddiqui, said Meghan Guerero, the spokesperson of US embassy in Pakistan, according to a media report.
The spokesperson said that there is no extradition treaty between Pakistan and the US. “It is for Pakistan to decide about such a treaty,” she said after getting instruction from Washington. The US administration also allowed publication of her statement.
Replying to a question about Dr Shakil Afridi who helped the US trace the residence of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, she said that US will raise the issue at a high-level meeting with Pakistani leadership. She further said that Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issue with Islamabad administration on August 1, 2013. She said that they have seen reports about the retrial of Afridi. She said that the US stance on the case is clear. The US considers the treatment meted out to Afridi unjust and unwarranted. “We are sad and sorry that he was condemned as a criminal and punished,” she said.
Meghan Guerero said, “The new turn to the Shakil Afridi case given by Pakistan points to the fact that to do justice with Osama bin Laden is in the interest of Pakistan. We constantly believe that the trial of Afridi and punishment awarded to him will send a wrong message with respect to mutual interest of the two countries.
The US has made this point of view absolutely clear to Pakistan in private as well as in public. This issue will be raised in a meeting of senior leadership of the US and Pakistan. We are concerned about the health and welfare of Shakil Afridi in jail. We have encouraged the steps taken by the Pakistan government for the security of Afridi and his family.”