WASHINGTON: Senior US and Pakistani officials reviewed the military operation against militants in North Waziristan during a visit to the State Department by a top official representing the government.
At the meeting between Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Syed Tariq Fatemi and US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Pakistan’s commitment to targeting all Taliban militants, including those of the Haqqani network, was also discussed.
The Americans complain that Pakistan allowed Haqqani militants to escape to Afghanistan before it launched the operation. Mr Fatemi assured the Americans that the military was targeting all Taliban militants, “irrespective of their nationality, ethnicity or group affiliation”.
While talking to the media, Mr Fatemi pointed out that Operation Zarb-i-Azb involved more than 175,000 troops and such a huge operation could not be launched quietly. The troop movement and other preparations, he said, might have alerted some militants and they might have left North Waziristan before the operation started.
Special Assistant to PM on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi assures US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns that the military is targeting all militants
“But the government did not allow anyone to escape. Our troops had orders to engage all Taliban militants, Afghans or Pakistanis,” he said.
Mr Fatemi, who arrived in Washington on Saturday on a week-long visit, followed Defence Secretary Asif Yasin Malik who also discussed the North Waziristan offensive with senior US defence officials.
During Mr Malik’s visit, a senior Pakistani defence official briefed the US media and, according to an Associated Press report, informed them that Islamabad had urged Washington to review its scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The official said that Pakistan did not want the United States to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 and reminded the Americans that they had not yet achieved their objectives in Afghanistan and that’s why they needed to stay engaged with that country.
Mr Fatemi, when asked to comment on this statement, said that “no leader from Pakistan has ever made this request”. The presence of US troops in Afghanistan did not concern Pakistan and that’s why Pakistan did not want to advise the Americans to stay there or leave, he said.
Pakistan also had no business telling the Americans whether they had achieved their objectives in Afghanistan or not, he added.
Official and diplomatic circles in Washington also noticed this clear divergence between the views of the Foreign Office and the Defence Ministry on this issue. They pointed out that while the Pakistani military felt that it would be good for the success of their operation to have US troops on the other side of the border, the civilians seemed reluctant to provide political cover to this apparently unpopular demand.
However, there’s convergence of views between the civilian and military establishments on the need for continued US support to the North Waziristan operation.
Like the senior Pakistani defence official who briefed the US media, Mr Fatemi also stressed the need for devising a new mechanism for reimbursing Pakistan for the expenses it may incur during the operation.
Both noted that the US Coalition Support Fund, which is used for reimbursing Pakistan, would expire after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and urged Washington to set up another fund for providing financial support to the operation.
Mr Fatemi also said that the United States and Pakistan were already discussing various proposals for providing the country whatever equipment and weapons it may need for combating Taliban.
In his meeting with Mr Burns, Mr Fatemi also reinforced Pakistan’s commitment to maintaining cordial relations with all its neighbours, including Afghanistan and India.
A statement issued by the Pakistan Embassy said Mr Burns appreciated Pakistan’s stabilising role in the region and reiterated the US support for prime minister’s economic development plan with special focus on energy and fighting extremism.
He also lauded the prime minister’s peace initiative with India and hoped that it would help bring prosperity to the people of the two countries.
Mr Fatemi recognised America’s continued support to Pakistan’s major energy programmes including the Dasu hydropower project.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Jalil Abbas Jilani, and US Principal.
Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Dan Feldman also participated in the meeting.