NEW YORK: Pakistan is ready to work with the United States for effective management of the Afghan border to stop terrorist infiltration and to facilitate a peace settlement in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif told an audience at Asia Society on Tuesday, while stressing that there was no military solution to the festering conflict in that country.
“Scapegoating Pakistan for all the Afghan ills is neither fair nor accurate,” Asif, who is attending the 72nd session of UN General Assembly, said.
“This will only help forces that we are trying to fight collectively.”
Pakistan, he said, had in the past done all it could to facilitate a political settlement in Afghanistan, making sure that Pakistani soil was not used against any country.
In his opening remarks, Khawaja Asif also covered Pakistan’s relations with India, the Kashmir dispute, counter-terrorism measures and the country’s economic progress.
He was welcomed by Tom Nagorski, executive vice president of Asia Society. The event was moderated by Steve Coll, an eminent American journalist who is now teaching journalism at Columbia University.
Khawaja Asif said Pakistan has a “larger stake” in seeing the return of peace and stability in Afghanistan than any other country, having suffered grievously from the conflict and instability across the border.
“We are mindful of the strong desire in the US to bring the ‘long war’ in Afghanistan to an end,” the minister said.
“We support this objective whole heartedly and are ready to help in any way we could to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
However, the minister said there were obviously clear limits to what Pakistan could do.
“We cannot take responsibility for Afghanistan’s peace and security and be asked to achieve what the combined strength of some of the most powerful and richest countries could not accomplish,” he told the audience.
“Effective border management frankly is the key,” the minister said.
“More needs to be done on the Afghan side of the border where terrorist elements are finding easy safe havens.”
At the same time, he called the militarist approach a “folly”, saying it had failed.
“We are keen to work with the US in effectively managing the Afghan border and in facilitating a peace process to the extent we can,” Asif added.
“The emergence of new threats including (Da’esh) demands ever greater coordination and stronger partnerships between like-minded countries to put up a united front to counter these dark forces of exclusion and extremism.”
Responding to questions, the foreign minister said that a new initiative was need to bring India and Pakistan to the negotiating table and discuss all the issues, including the decades-old Kashmir dispute, the main source of tension between the two countries.
Peace in the neighborhood was impossible to achieve unless relations with India improved, he said.
Pakistan reached out to India to seek normalization of relations and resolution of all disputes through dialogue and engagement, but India did not reciprocate.
“The unprovoked violations on the LoC (Line of Control in Kashmir) and the working boundary, escalating political rhetoric, excessive use of force against unarmed civilians in the occupied Kashmir and harassment of minorities, particularly Muslims in India, do not bode well for peace, reconciliation and dialogue in South Asia.”
He said India could not wish away Kashmir, nor could it delegitimize the genuine, indigenous, unarmed struggle of the Kashmiris fighting for their right of self- determination by terming it as terrorism.
Pakistan was ready to work with India to seek peaceful resolution of all disputes and to create an environment of peace and stability allowing the people of the two countries to realize their aspirations of prosperity and development, the minister said Pakistan, he said, stands for greater regional integration and connectivity.
“The most promising element of this policy is the recently launched China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multi-billion dollars initiative entailing multiple development and connectivity initiatives and projects, including infrastructure, energy, Gwadar port and industrial cooperation.
Other regional economic projects include TAPI, CASA-1000 and improved trading partnership between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
“Within this scheme of things,” Asif said, “the US remains our critical partner and there are strong and enduring bases for this partnership to continue in the future.”
He added, “Both Pakistan and the US have strong convergences in fighting terrorism and working together to stop the spread of violent extremism espoused by the ISIL. Similarly, peace and stability in Afghanistan is in our mutual interest, and the benefits accruing from a stable and secure region benefit the US as much as it benefits us.”
“In our view, Pakistan and the US have always benefited when they work together. We are grateful for the US support to Pakistan in a broad range of areas. For many years, the US has been supportive of building Pakistan’s capacity and helping us overcome our challenges. The US has helped us deal with our electricity shortages and the USAID is supporting one of the largest Fulbright Scholarship Programme for Pakistan-especially for women.”
“The US assistance in building infrastructure in remote areas such as FATA will leave an enduring impact in stimulating economic development in an area that had been infested with extremist ideologies for decades.”
Thanking the US government and people for this support, Asif said, “Our large, active and vibrant diaspora in the US continue to be a very important bridge between our two countries.”
He hopes that people-to-people exchanges would become the centerpiece of our relationship with trade, investment, education and research as its driving links.
“While recognizing that US assistance has been beneficial in supplementing our own efforts for economic development, we wish our long term partnership to be anchored on trade instead of aid.
“A close and enduring partnership between Pakistan and the US is, we believe, a strategic imperative for achieving lasting peace and stability in the region and beyond. This is what we are working to secure with our friends and partners in the US.”
On the security front, the minister said through a relentless military and law enforcement campaign, the terrorists are put on the run. The terrorist networks were dismantled and their safe havens were destroyed. An effective and focused intelligence led law enforcement campaign had also been launched against terrorist sleeper cells across Pakistan.
As a result, he said last year witnessed the lowest number of terrorist incidents in over a decade.
International cricket had returned to Pakistan and internal tourism had spiked.
Pakistan’s economic growth has picked up, tax receipts have risen, inflation is under control with stable foreign remittance flows and vibrant stock market.
Today Pakistan’s economic upturn was being noted worldwide — credit ratings with Standard and Poor and Moody’s have gone up three notches, while entities such as Forbes, Bloomberg and Nikkei describe Pakistan as Asia’s next growth engine, a global turnaround story and the best undiscovered frontier market.
“On the energy front too we are close to terminating for good the much criticized electricity blackouts for both industrial and domestic sectors,” the minister said.—APP