Every effort being made to fight terrorism, says Pak envoy in Washington
Pakistan has taken up comprehensive counterterrorism operations, which have driven militants out of its tribal areas. As a result, there is no organized presence of any militants in Pakistan today, said Pakistani Ambassador to the US Aizaz Chaudhry in an interview with Al-Riyadh, sister publication of Riyadh Daily.
Asked why the Trump administration believes that Pakistan is not doing enough to fight terrorism, particularly in Afghanistan, he said that Pakistan remains committed to working with the US to bring peace to Afghanistan. In Pakistan itself, the number of terrorist incidents has been declining every year since 2014. This could not have been possible without a comprehensive counterterrorism effort, he said.
In recent weeks, US officials have asked Pakistan to help with the political reconciliation effort in Afghanistan. “We have told them that Pakistan will make every effort to facilitate a reconciliation process, but, ultimately, such a process will only succeed if the Afghan government and the Afghan people take full ownership of it.
Do you think the prevailing tensions between Pakistan and the US will last long? Are they related only to the Trump administration?
Pakistan and the US have a long, rich history of mutually beneficial cooperation. We have had ups and downs in the past, but our history proves that both countries achieve the most when we work together. For its part, Pakistan remains committed to working with the US in the pursuit of our common interests and to address our common challenges.
After the suspension of aid, do you see the possibility of tensions escalating – a serious rupture in relations between the two countries?
Pakistan has repeatedly stressed its desire to work with the US on the basis of mutual respect and mutual trust. We need to remain engaged to bridge all differences and remove misunderstandings. Bilateral tensions help neither country and only become obstacles to pursuing our shared objectives of achieving regional peace and stability.
Do you think the US can succeed in implementing a political solution in Afghanistan?
The Afghan conflict is now in its 17th year. If we have learnt anything during these 17 years, it is that there is no military solution to Afghanistan. Pakistan has always said that a political solution offers the most viable path to peace in Afghanistan and will fully support all efforts towards achieving such a solution.
When Rex Tillerson was the US Secretary of State, he said that President Donald Trump will put pressure to enforce peace and end the war in Afghanistan. What role do you see the Taliban playing in the future? Will they be a political group or will they be isolated?
What political role the Taliban, or any other Afghan faction, would have in future is for the Afghan people to decide. Having paid such a high price for instability in Afghanistan, Pakistan only wants to see an Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and at peace with the outside world.
Do you think Pakistan and Afghanistan will ever be a safe haven for the ISIS after it lost its base in Syria and Iraq?
There are credible reports that ISIS is exploiting the vast and ungoverned territories inside Afghanistan to expand its footprint. But Pakistan has cleared its territory of militant groups at a tremendous human and financial cost for reasons of our own national interest and security.
We have not only cleared the tribal areas, but are now also mopping up any individuals, who may have fled earlier operations to hide in Pakistan's urban population centers. We are doing this through Operation Radd ul Fasad.
We will continue to deny space to militants and to ensure that no entity can use our territory against any other country. We expect other countries in the region to do the same.
How do you describe the relations between Pakistan and the Arab neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia, where thousands of Pakistani expatriates live?
Pakistan values its fraternal and brotherly relations with all Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia. The people of Pakistan have a natural affinity for Saudi Arabia, a country that has stood by Pakistan through every trial and tribulation.
In the minds of the western world, places like Pakistan, Syria and Afghanistan are related to terror, Osama bin Laden and ISIS. How does one change this perception, and what is the contribution of Pakistani-Americans to the American community?
There is, unfortunately, a gap between the perception about Pakistan in the US and the reality on the ground in Pakistan. Since assuming charge as ambassador last year, I have laid great emphasis on public diplomacy and outreach in order to bridge this gap.
I especially enjoy touring and speaking at university campuses around the US to present the diverse and pluralistic side of Pakistan to American students. I have particularly found young Americans curious and interested in Pakistan.
Pakistani-Americans are peaceful, law abiding citizens who enrich American society in so many ways. They represent what's best in both their adopted and home countries. I have made reaching out to the Pakistani-American community as one of my priorities. It has been my privilege to interact with them, and recognize and encourage their contributions to America.