As the temperature went down in the mountain resort town, allegations, promises and sympathy dominated a session on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Aspen security forum.
In a session moderated by Steve Kroft from the CBS TV Network’s show 60 Minutes, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman, addressing the audience via teleconference, said that drone strikes test Pak-US relations.
When quizzed about Dr Shakil Afridi’s imprisonment, she said his actions had endangered the lives of health workers in Pakistan, and put polio vaccination at risk for thousands of children.
However, she admitted that Dr Afridi was unaware of the fact that he was part of the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, however, expressed outrage at Dr Afridi’s incarceration.
The debate moved from counterterrorism cooperation to the future of Afghanistan. Afghan Ambassador to the US Eklil Hakimi told the audience that the opposition forces in Afghanistan receive “money, training and equipment” from the other side of the Durand Line.
Quoting Admiral Mullen’s statement on the Haqqani Network being a ‘veritable arm of the ISI’, Ambassador Hakimi said he hoped Pakistan would take concrete steps to prevent the Taliban from using its soil for carrying out attacks.
Ambassador Sherry highlighted Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts, saying that over 200 high-value targets had been handed over to the US. “Where is the strategic sympathy for Pakistan which has lost 42,000 lives in the last 12 years?” she asked.
In response to another question, the top Pakistani diplomat said there were sanctuaries for militants on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. Pakistani Taliban have hideouts in the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.
Special Assistant to the US President for Afghanistan and Pakistan Gen Doug Lute replied back saying that “we can hardly compare the relatively small and recent presence of the Pakistani Taliban in Kunar and Nuristan with the long history of relationship between certain elements of the Pakistani government and the Afghan Taliban.”
Furthermore, when asked about action against militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Gen Lute said it was up to Pakistan to play the part on its side of the border.
Regarding the reconciliation process, Gen Lute said the Afghan Taliban had to renounce violence and follow the Afghan constitution. He added that the US would continue to maintain a diplomatic and military presence in Afghanistan even after the withdrawal of forces in 2014.
A key point that all participants agreed on was that the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan were interlinked.
On a concluding note, Gen Lute said, “There is no stability in Afghanistan that doesn’t involve Pakistan and there is no stability in Pakistan that doesn’t involve Afghanistan.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2012.