ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister’s senior aide Sartaj Aziz responded to US concerns that the country remains a haven for the feared Haqqani network, saying on Monday that the militants have been weakened by an army offensive and now operate mostly out of Afghanistan.
Sartaj Aziz, national adviser for foreign affairs, spoke a day after US National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned leaders in Islamabad that attacks in Afghanistan by militants based in Pakistani threaten regional security.
US officials particularly expressed concern about the Haqqani network, which they blamed for several bloody bombings and attacks in the Afghan capital in recent weeks.
Aziz denied any implication that Pakistan is not targeting the Haqqani network in its military offensive in the border region of North Waziristan.
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"The infrastructure of the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, which included the IED (improvised explosive device) factories and a number of other capacities, including communication, has been disrupted," Aziz told a joint press briefing with the visiting German foreign minister.
He also disputed the assertion by US officials that the Haqqanis plan most of their Afghanistan attacks from Pakistani soil.
"Our assessment is that their capacity in Afghanistan is much, much bigger - probably 80/90 percent compared to what it is here. And what is here is also being cleaned out as a part of our operations," Aziz said.
Pakistan has long denied sheltering the Haqqani network, despite the top US general in 2011 calling the militants a "veritable arm" of Pakistani military intelligence.
Pakistan Army has been waging an offensive against the Taliban and other militants in North Waziristan for more than a year, but some critics question whether the Haqqani leadership was allowed to leave ahead of the assault.
Monday's remarks came amid uncertainty on whether the US would release $300 million in military aid to Pakistan, which is dependent on US government certification that Pakistan is targeting the Haqqanis.
Meeting with German foreign minister
Further, Aziz said Pakistan wants to build relations with its neighbours based on mutual respect.
“Challenges being faced by Pakistan and Germany came under discussion during the meeting with German Foreign Minister Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier,” Aziz told journalists at a joint press conference in Islamabad.
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The PM’s adviser said regional peace and security came under discussion between both the officials, adding that the German foreign minister was apprised of the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb being carried out against terrorists hiding mainly in the northwestern regions of the country.
“Germany is extending its cooperation to Pakistan in many fields,” the PM’s top aide said, adding that both the countries can make use of enormous trade opportunities to further enhance their bilateral relations.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s situation also came under discussion during the meeting and Steinmeier expressed his country’s desire to jointly work with the Pakistani government to root out the menace of terrorism.
Steinmeier praised the government’s efforts to bring peace and stability in the neighbouring Afghanistan.
Steinmeier appreciates Pakistan’s fight against terrorism
Meanwhile, the German foreign minister appreciated sacrifices made by Pakistan in the fight against extremism and terrorism.
In his meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the PM House, both the leaders discussed matters relating to bi-lateral and regional interest with particular focus on peace and stability in the region.
Steinmeier thanked the prime minister for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to him in his visit to Pakistan.
He said bi-lateral relations between the two countries were improving and cooperation in the economic field and other sectors will further make relations closer between the two countries.
Nawaz thanked Germany for supporting Pakistan for GSP Plus status given by European Union (EU), saying Pakistan’s economy is witnessing a turn-around and key indicators are improving and operation against terrorism is achieving success.
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The German foreign minister arrived in Islamabad for a two-day visit earlier on Monday.
He is accompanied by a 32-member delegation, including the German ambassador in Pakistan and senior officials of the German foreign ministry. He will hold meetings with top civil and military leadership to discuss bilateral relations.
Earlier this year, PM Nawaz had extended an invitation to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country keenly anticipates her visit to Pakistan.
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