As expected, the United States publicly acknowledged that Pakistan played a vital role in bringing the Afghan Taliban and the U.S. administration closer to reconciliation and expressed the desire to continue its partnership with Islamabad beyond the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan next year.
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson finally made this acknowledgement while briefing reporters ahead of the U.S.-Pakistan Business Opportunities Conference to be held in Dubai from June 25 to 26. He said the U.S. had a long-term interest in Pakistan and would like to keep the partnership going beyond 2050, contrary to common perception that U.S. interest in Pakistan would recede with the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan in 2014.
This announcement came in the wake of the reopening of the Taliban office in Qatar for the proposed peace talks with Washington, amidst growing fears that U.S. would repeat the mistake of leaving Afghanistan with a dangerously unfinished agenda, like it did after the withdrawal of Soviet forces, and this time by installing Pakistan’s arch enemy, India, on Afghan soil to squeeze Afghanistan from two sides.
Working with Pakistan
Olson said the U.S. was working closely with Pakistan which played a constructive role in the opening of the Taliban office in Doha, a big support greatly appreciated by Washington, he said. Olson said the Dubai business conference would have high-level participation from both governments, including Pakistan’s ministers of finance, energy and planning and senior officials of the U.S. state department, USAID, special trade representatives and Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
In response to every drone attack, more terrorists are created in Pakistan besides the deaths of civilian casualties and trampling of its sovereigntyMansoor Jafar
He was confident that the conference would open up new avenues of trade opportunities for Pakistani companies in the U.S. market and investment and financing opportunities for U.S. companies in Pakistan which had great potential hitherto unexplored by the private sector of the two countries.
The U.S., according to the American envoy, was encouraging multilateral agencies to extending financial support for the $14 billion Diamer-Bhasha dam project to help Pakistan overcome its energy crisis. He said that besides supporting various stages of the project, including preparation of feasibility studies, the U.S. was putting together a financing package for it.
Olson also said the U.S. has made funding available for the project and was working very closely with multilateral agencies, adding that it was not advisable at this stage to talk about the exact amount of U.S. funding.
About the reluctance of multilateral agencies, particularly the World Bank, to support the project because of Indian objections, Olson said: “This is not the foremost issue facing the project but financing package is the key.” About the alternate nuclear energy which is used all over the western world, he said the issue was complicated and the U.S. and Pakistan had been discussing it but he would like the discussions to remain within the ambit of diplomatic channels.
However, he told media that the U.S. government had not yet decided whether to continue with Coalition Support Fund (CSF) disbursements to Pakistan after withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan next year.
Despite all this
Despite admitting Pakistan’s vital role in helping the safe withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Washington still refrains from reciprocating the gesture towards its frontline ally. Despite the global criticism, the U.S. continued the highly controversial drone attacks which had been a source of great nuisance and terrorism for Pakistan. Besides it had strongly disallowed Islamabad to hold similar peace talks with the Taliban in its territories.
In response to every drone attack, more terrorists are created in Pakistan besides the deaths of civilian casualties and trampling of its sovereignty.
Yet, Washington had always been strongly opposed to Islamabad holding peace talks with the Taliban who had been targeting Pakistan’s armed forces and official installations, considering it a key U.S. ally that was equally responsible for the drone attacks and the US-dictated military operations in tribal areas.
While the whole world is anxiously looking forward to the future of South Asia following the proposed U.S.-Taliban talks in Doha, the talks process ran into trouble from the outset when Afghan President Hamid Karzai withdrew from talks to protest the Taliban’s use of its old flag and a sign bearing the name of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which Taliban government used during its six-year rule that ended in 2001 with U.S.-led invasion. Besides, Taliban spokesman also reiterated their several year old stance that their war against the U.S. would continue till the withdrawal of U.S. forces, emphasizing that it was the only condition for any meaningful talks.
However, after the intervention by Qatar’s government, the Taliban flag at the office was lowered and the sign changed to “Political Bureau of Afghan Taliban in Doha.” Yet it was not sufficient for Afghan delegation to display a positive gesture, as they expected slight chances of success of the talks because, the “Taliban are not interested in peace and all they want is to regain their rule over Afghanistan.”
Earlier, Olson met Pakistan’s interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who welcomed U.S.-Taliban peace talks with the hope that it would establish peace in the region. Richard Olson reaffirmed that Pakistan’s support for peace talks was vitally important, and that both the countries would continue jointly working for the peace in the region.
Bringing an end to war in Afghanistan and the exit of all foreign troops from Afghan soil is the biggest desire of the people of Pakistan, so that the terrorism it had been exporting in Pakistan can also come to an end. But their biggest fear is the replacement of Indian agents in the place of NATO forces in Afghanistan. Washington needs to be advised that such an eventuality would be a greater mistake than that it made after Soviet withdrawal and would cause serious repercussions on regional security and disastrous effects for the neighboring countries.
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar
NOTE: The following is a statement received by the U.S. State of Department office in Dubai on June 26, 2013
“We believe the article contained reactions pulled from Pakistani press that did not exactly reflect the crux of Ambassador Olson's speech which focused on U.S.-Pakistan Business initiative. Specifically, the beginning of the article implies that the U.S. just gave acknowledgment about Pakistan's role in the opening of the Taliban office and the start of reconciliation process.”