Pakistan has ‘serious concerns’ on certain issues concerning US plans for the future of Afghanistan following President Barack Obama’s announcement of a phased withdrawal of 33,000 troops by September 2012.
While Kabul and major world capitals welcomed Obama’s decision, Islamabad offered a guarded response and stopped short of giving any explicit statement.
Instead, the foreign ministry said in a terse statement that Pakistan has “ongoing engagement on issues of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and counter-terrorism”.
“We will have the opportunity to discuss these issues in greater detail when the core group of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US will meet in Kabul early next week,” the statement added.
However, a foreign ministry official admitted that Islamabad has certain reservations about the US plans for the Afghan endgame.
“We are cautious because we want to know more about President Obama’s plans,” the official told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity.
The official said the US president’s deflection of blame for the insurgency in neighbouring Afghanistan on Pakistan did not reflect the facts on the ground. Pakistan is also sore about Washington’s attempts to sideline it in its peace overtures with the Afghan Taliban, he said.
At a joint news conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar also sounded sceptical about the role of the US in the Afghan reconciliation process.
“If we are able to get more clarity in our approach and work together then certainly peace would become a reality,” said Khar.
For his part, Hague urged Pakistan to play a constructive role for the success of reconciliatory efforts in Afghanistan as he acknowledged his country was involved in the peace talks with the Taliban.
“Contacts do take place but this is an Afghan-led process and Britain will assist and facilitate. Britain is connected to those events but I don’t want to say any more than that. Any such contacts in any case are at a very preliminary stage,” Hague told reporters at a joint news conference with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar.
Welcoming Obama’s drawdown plan, the British foreign secretary said that his country too would pull out all its combat troops from Afghanistan by 2015. However, Hague said that even after the American withdrawal, there would still be approximately 100,000 international troops based in Afghanistan.
“There is clearly an improved atmosphere in relations and cooperation between the two countries,” he said, acknowledging that Pakistan has an important and responsible role to play in Kabul.
Five components of strategic dialogue
Khar said that five areas had been identified as components of the enhanced strategic dialogue between the two countries and Pakistan would share working papers with the UK in moving forward on each one of them.
She said the two sides had agreed to enlarge the role of the British-Pakistan Foundation formally launched in October last year.
US military warns of risks
The US military warned on Thursday that Obama’s faster-than-expected drawdown in Afghanistan created new risks.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that Obama’s plans to withdraw nearly a third of the some 99,000 US troops in Afghanistan was a riskier plan than he had initially wanted. (With additional input from the news wires)
Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2011.