WASHINGTON – The United States Ambassador-designate to Pakistan says he will push Islamabad to ‘do more’ to root out the Haqqani network.
Pakistan, he said, has helped the US so that “we are virtually within grasp of defeating al-Qaeda as an organisation.” But, he said, Pakistan should do more against the threat by the Haqqanis, a Taliban-related group based in Pakistan that launches attacks in Afghanistan.
The US considers the Haqqani the greatest threat to its mission in Afghanistan as American troops prepare to withdraw, claiming that it has links with Pakistani intelligence.
Olson said the US-Pakistan relationship, though ‘extremely difficult’ is “important for both of our nations.”
Pakistan’s concerns about the future of Afghanistan post-2014 and the question of long-term US-engagement with both Pakistan and Afghanistan echoed in the discussion as members of the influential panel sought views of the two nominated American ambassadors - Olson to Islamabad and James Cunningham as next US ambassador to Afghanistan- at a joint hearing.
The lawmakers also quizzed the ambassadorial nominees about a series of related subjects including the need for a check on cross-border activities of the Afghan Haqqani militants, US assistance for Pakistan, Islamabad’s policy toward Afghanistan, the situation in Afghanistan and drone operations against militant targets in the tribal areas.
Olson, nominated by President Barack Obama to replace his predecessor Cameron Munter as America’s top diplomat in Islamabad, spoke as Pakistan and the United States formalized resumption of Nato supply routes into landlocked Afghanistan with an agreement on Tuesday.
“The re-opening of the Nato supply lines provides a renewed opportunity to increase cooperation on our many shared interests.”
“If confirmed, I hope to build on this opportunity to identify and refine our shared interests with Pakistan, and find practical, effective ways to work together to achieve them,” said Olson, who was until recently serving as coordinator for development and economic affairs at the US embassy in Kabul.
Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Senator John Kerry and the ranking Republican Richard Lugar both acknowledged in their statements that Pakistan has suffered grievously at the hands of terrorism, having lost more than 30,000 civilians and 6,000 security personnel in the fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
In his testimony, Olson reaffirmed US interest in a stable and democrat Pakistan noting that “throughout the past year – one that has been marked by events including the May 2 raid against Osama Bin Laden and the November 26 Salala cross-border incident that resulted in the deaths of 24 Pakistani troops and the subsequent closure of the Ground Lines of Communication – we have continued to engage the Pakistanis at the highest levels.”
“We are committed to putting this relationship on more stable footing,” he stated.
“I don’t have to tell you how important Pakistan is to the United States. The United States has a clear interest in supporting a stable, sovereign, and democratic Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbours,” Olson said in his statement.
Listing out some of the American interests in Pakistan, the nominee said “continued engagement with Pakistan is necessary to pursue the strategic defeat of al-Qaeda. Engagement is necessary to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan, to encourage regional stability, and to support political and economic stability in Pakistan. Instability in Pakistan would undermine our goals in the region.”
Referring to challenges facing Pakistan, Olson observed that the South Asian country “is located in a challenging region, continues to face economic stagnation, and is home to a burgeoning population of nearly 200 million people, the majority of whom are under 25.”
“Pakistan has its own challenge in combating extremists that have killed almost 30,000 soldiers and Pakistani citizens. But Pakistan is also a country with great potential, vast natural resources, and talented, resilient people.”
Olson recounted to the lawmakers that the US could not have succeeded in curbing al-Qaeda threat over the years without Pakistani cooperation.
“Tragically, the Pakistani people have suffered greatly from the extremist violence in their country. They have lost more troops and civilians to acts of terror than any other nation. But there has been cooperation between our nations. As President Obama has noted, we have captured or removed from the battlefield more terrorists on Pakistani soil than anywhere else. We could not have done that without Pakistan’s assistance.”
Pakistan and the United States, he said, also “share an interest in supporting political stability and security in Afghanistan.”
“As President Obama said on May 2, we want Pakistan to be a full partner in supporting Afghan peace and stability in a way that respects Pakistan’s sovereignty, interests, and democratic institutions. Pakistani officials have told us repeatedly that, more than any other nation, they have a vested interest in seeing a stable, secure Afghanistan.”
On Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, he said, Washington has been encouraged by enhanced dialogue between the two neighbours on reconciliation.
“As Afghanistan and Pakistan intensify their bilateral dialogue, including through restarting the Joint Peace Commission, all parties need to focus on concrete steps to support Afghanistan. This includes squeezing insurgents – most notably the Haqqani Taliban Network – which threaten to spoil nascent Afghan reconciliation efforts, and which target Afghans, as well as US personnel.”
“We will continue to encourage Afghanistan-Pakistan cooperation through the Core Group, which Secretary Clinton convened for the first time at the Ministerial level on the margins of the Tokyo Conference. At the July 8 Ministerial-level Core Group meeting in Tokyo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the US reiterated that the surest way to lasting peace and security for Afghanistan and the broader region is through an Afghan political process of peace and reconciliation for Afghanistan.”
Speaking particularly about Pakistan, Olson said “promoting democratic and economic stability in Pakistan is also in our shared interests.”
“Despite the current internal political turmoil, Pakistan’s upcoming general election will mark the country’s first transition of power from one civilian government to another – the first in Pakistan’s history.
“We also share an interest in combating the use of improvised explosive devices, and we are engaged in discussion on this critical issue, including on ways to increase border controls to restrict the flow of IED precursors.”
Olson also pledged to work towards advancing economic ties.
Unlocking Pakistan’s economic potential by supporting private sector growth and expanding trade and economic cooperation across borders is central to creating jobs for Pakistan’s dynamic people. Progress on normalising trade relations between India and Pakistan will have a tremendous impact on increasing regional economic cooperation in line with Secretary Clinton’s vision for a New Silk Road linking the economies of South and Central Asia, he said.
“Our continuing civilian assistance, which is focused on five priority sectors – energy, economic growth, stabilisation of the border areas, education, and health – also helps promote a secure, stable, democratic Pakistan, and stimulate economic growth, over time,” the nominee said.
New US envoy to harp on ‘do more’