Pakistan on Monday sought ‘greater transparency and clarity’ from the United States in its plans to reach out to the Afghan Taliban in a move that indicates Islamabad’s unease over Washington’s recent overtures with insurgents.
The Obama administration has recently confirmed that it had established contacts with the Afghan Taliban though it insisted the negotiations were at a preliminary stage.
It is widely believed that the US has deliberately kept Pakistan at bay about its efforts to seek a peace deal with the Taliban ahead of the phased withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Senior Pakistani officials conveyed concerns to visiting US deputy special representative Frank Ruggiero about Washington’s ‘attempts to bypass’ Islamabad, sources told The Express Tribune.
The statement issued by the Foreign Ministry after talks between State Minister Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar and Ruggiero clearly indicated Pakistan’s discomfort with the US approach on the Afghan reconciliation process.
It said the two discussed the Afghan reconciliation process that seeks a political solution to the decade-old war.
“The Minister (Hina Rabbani Khar) underscored the importance of clarity and strategic coherence as well as transparency to facilitate the Afghan people and the Afghan government in the process for peace and reconciliation,” said the statement after her meeting with Ruggiero. However, it stopped short of directly pointing fingers at the US.
But a Pakistani diplomat, who is posted in Kabul, was more forthcoming about the US role in Afghan reconciliation process.
Islamabad is being kept in the dark by the US over its recent contacts with the Taliban, said the diplomat, who requested not to be named.
“We do know that some meetings have taken place between the US officials and the Afghan Taliban in Germany and Qatar,” he added.
“It seems Pakistan is being deliberately kept out by the US to minimise our role in future political dispensation of Afghanistan,” he insisted. However, he cautioned that such a move will not succeed as Islamabad has ‘legitimate stakes’ in Afghanistan.
The US Envoy, on the other hand underscored the importance of the Core Group composed of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US in the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation and peace.
“It was agreed that the Pakistan-US relations were on track and that enhanced interaction between the
two sides at several levels greatly facilitated better understanding of each other’s point of view,” the statement said.
Minister of State Khar aired ‘serious concern’ over recent militant incursions from across the border with Afghanistan into Pakistan that led to loss of innocent lives. He also met Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and other senior civil and military officials.
But there was no official word on his interaction with military officials.
Afghanistan on Monday complained to Pakistan about ‘its shelling of Afghan villages’, soon after an assault by Pakistani forces drove militants across the border.
The two sides blame each other for failing to crack down hard enough on militants along a porous border across which insurgents move freely. The fighting threatens to raise tensions as the US prepares to announce a gradual withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan next month.
An Afghan ministry statement said Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul spoke to the Pakistani ambassador over shelling by the Pakistani military of villages in the Sarkano district of Kunar province, close to the border, earlier on Monday.
“The foreign minister expressed the Afghan side’s concern for the shelling of Afghan villages by Pakistani artillery … and conveyed the Afghan government’s request for such shelling to stop,” the statement said.
“The recent shelling has caused casualties among Afghan civilians,” it said, without providing more details.
Additional input from Reuters
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2011.