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Relations with Pakistan robust, says US

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday rejected the suggestion that its relations with Pakistan now were at their lowest level, although it did call it a challenging relationship.

“I would refute the premise of the question. I don’t believe they’re at their lowest level,” said US State Department’s deputy spokesman Mark Toner when asked if the relationship had hit rock bottom.

In an earlier statement, Mr Toner had also ruled out any possibility of imposing sanctions on Pakistan over its alleged links with the Haqqani network of terrorists. Instead, he asserted the need to maintain a high level of engagement with the country to persuade it to target all terrorist groups, including those involved in cross-border operations.

At the latest briefing, the US official noted that Washington’s relationship with Islamabad was “strong and in our mutual interest, and also in the interest of the region.”

Mr Toner, however, acknowledged that it was a challenging relationship and the United States was “working quite quietly” with Pakistan on a range of issues, including counterterrorism. “And we believe, again, our relationship is strong,” he added.

When reminded that US Secretary of State John Kerry recently visited India and Bangladesh but skipped Pakistan, Mr Toner said: “It doesn’t clearly indicate anything about our relationship with Pakistan.”

The secretary, he said, had a very intense travel schedule, had been to Pakistan recently and often spoke to senior Pakistani leadership.

“Specifically, he was in India for the strategic and commercial dialogue and took the opportunity to also visit Bangladesh — I think the first time he’s been there,” he said.

Mr Toner then reassured both India and Pakistan that the United States was engaged in a “zero-sum game in South Asia.

“We need to have a very strong and robust relationship with India, the world’s largest democracy. And we also want to have a strong relationship with Pakistan. It’s in the interests of the region to do so,” he said.

Reminded that at a hearing earlier this week, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee rejected the proposal to sanction Pakistan, Mr Toner said the preferred strategy was to use regular engagements with Pakistan for convincing it to take more actions against various terrorist outfits.

“Our discussions continue to focus on the fact that we’re urging the government of Pakistan to take concerted action against safe havens and terrorist groups that threaten other countries in the region and we’ve been very clear about that,” he said.

“And we have seen them attempt to address it. We want to see more action taken, but it continues to be a topic of conversation with them.”

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2016

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