ISLAMABAD: US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to visit Pakistan in the ‘near future’ to discuss recent hiccup in bilateral ties between the two countries as well as the prevailing regional security situation, including Afghanistan.
Following his talks with Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz on Tuesday in Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Secretary Kerry said he would like to visit Pakistan in the ‘near future’ to review bilateral cooperation and discuss regional issues, the Foreign Office said in a statement.
Both Kerry and Aziz were attending a ministerial meeting of the Asean Regional Forum (ARF). This was the first high-level contact between the two countries since a US Congressional panel stopped the Obama administration from providing funds to Pakistan to purchase F-16 fighter jets in May.
Elements within the Congress are also calling for tougher measures against Pakistan such as cutting off all kinds of financial assistance in order to press Islamabad to act against the Afghan Taliban and allied Haqqani network.
Pakistan is upset over these developments and insists it has done more than any other country in the fight against terrorism. But despite scathing criticism from certain US Congressmen, Secretary Kerry assured Aziz that Washington was ready to improve and expand its multidimensional partnership with Pakistan, according to the Foreign Office.
It added that during the meeting, Aziz and Kerry also exchanged views on the regional situation with a special reference to Afghanistan and agreed on the importance of promoting an Afghan-led reconciliation process.
Kerry appreciated Pakistan’s ‘determined efforts’ to eliminate terrorist groups in the tribal belt with ‘considerable success’.
Meanwhile, speaking at the Asean ministerial meeting, Aziz said terrorism was one of the most formidable challenges the world was facing today. “The recent wave of terrorism, stretching from the US to Europe to Asia, reminds us that the menace is alive and becoming even more dangerous. These attacks mark an escalation and shift in tactics of terrorists,” he said.
“The menace is taking new shapes and virulent forms, like self-radicalisation and lone wolf attacks, that are hard to detect in advance. As the international community watches with alarm, there is growing apprehension that the situation may become more serious in the coming months,” he added.
He said Pakistan had been one of the most serious victims of terrorism in the last decade. “We have lost thousands of precious lives. Even our schoolgoing children were not spared by terrorists. Nevertheless, in the past three years we have launched a very determined and successful campaign against terrorism,” Aziz told the gathering.
“The comprehensive military operation Zarb-e-Azb against all terrorist groups has been a remarkable success. It has been complemented by a National Action Plan to counter violent extremism through a programme of de-radicalisation. We are ready to share our counterterrorism experience with ARF members.”
He also stressed that terrorism and violent extremism was a global phenomenon. It cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group, he added. “The international community needs greater coordination and deeper dialogue to tackle the threat. It is equally important to address the root causes of terrorism.”
On Pakistan’s foreign policy, Aziz said Pakistan was committed to friendly relations with all our neighbours. “Pakistan is willing to engage in a sustained, structured and result-oriented comprehensive dialogue process with India to resolve all outstanding issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.”
He, however, said Pakistan was deeply concerned at the recent killing of innocent Kashmiris by Indian security forces. “We call upon the international community to raise its voice against human rights violations in Indian Occupied Kashmir.”
On Afghanistan, the adviser said Pakistan believes in an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. “We have made sincere efforts in this regard to bring all stakeholders to the negotiating table. We have hosted over three million Afghan refugees for more than 30 years, he added. “Pakistan will continue to support Afghanistan in its pursuit of peace and reconciliation, as well as reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2016.