Even as US Senator John Kerry struck a sombre note on his country’s relations with Pakistan just before arriving in the capital, the Presidency on Sunday appeared to signal the hope that Islamabad and Washington were preparing to move beyond the Osama bin Laden episode.
The two countries have agreed to resolve some of their differences, the presidency said in a statement following a telephone conversation between President Asif Zardari and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In stark contrast, Kerry had told reporters that US-Pakistan ties were at a “critical moment”. He said he was ready to listen to Pakistan’s leaders but the discovery of the al Qaeda chief living close to Islamabad meant talks had to “resolve some very serious issues”.
“We need to find a way to march forward if it is possible. If it is not possible, there are a set of downside consequences that can be profound,” said Kerry, whose trip to the region has been endorsed by President Barack Obama. Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also repeated Washington’s belief that Pakistani authorities know where Taliban safe havens harbouring the leaders of Afghanistan’s insurgency are located.
According to a statement issued by the Presidency, Clinton called Zardari to discuss the situation arising out of the Abbottabad operation. “The president apprised her [Clinton] of the concerns expressed by parliament over the operation,” the statement said. “Both agreed to resolve the issues amicably and move forward.”
Senator Kerry, who landed in Islamabad late Sunday evening, went straight to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi to meet Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
While there was no official word from either side about the meeting, official sources say the focus of the talks was on the post-Bin Laden situation.
Sources said that Kerry conveyed American concerns on the inability of Pakistan’s security establishment to detect the al Qaeda leader’s hideout in Abbottabad. The army chief, sources said, talked of the implications of the US raid.
Prior to the meeting, President Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Gen Kayani went into a huddle to firm up their strategy concerning questions being raised by the Americans about the ignorance of Pakistan’s security establishment on the whereabouts of the world’s most wanted man.
A brief statement issued by the President House said the three discussed the current security situation but official sources say the meeting was meant to prepare for discussions with Senator Kerry.
Kerry, who is also the chairman of US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, is the first high-level American administration official to visit Islamabad following Bin Laden’s death.
Kerry in Afghanistan
In the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Kerry told reporters that the US wanted Pakistan to be a “real” ally in combating militants, and while it needed to improve its efforts, the death of Bin Laden provided a critical chance to move forward.
“We obviously want a Pakistan that is prepared to respect the interests of Afghanistan and to be a real ally in our efforts to combat terrorism,” he said. “We believe there are things that can be done better. But we’re not trying to find a way to break the relationship apart, we’re trying to find a way to build it.”
Despite renewed tensions, Pakistani officials are not expecting a complete breakdown in relations with the US. “As far as countering terrorism is concerned, there has been constant cooperation with
the US and there is no suspension of it,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tehmina Janjua told Reuters.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2011.
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