US to stay engaged with Pakistan ‘lengthy into the long run’

WASHINGTON: The United States would continue to stay engaged with Pakistan and provide it economic assistance “long into the future”, said a US State Department spokesperson following a congressional debate, which also explored the possibility of sanctioning Islamabad.

In a statement shared with Dawn, the State Department also emphasised the need for Pakistan to take immediate steps to stop cross-border terrorist attacks into Afghanistan.

“We have urged the government of Pakistan to redouble its standing commitment to closer counterterrorism cooperation with Afghanistan against all groups that pose a long-term security threat to both countries,” the official said.

The State Department pointed out that “robust civilian and security assistance” to Pakistan allowed the US to jointly work on issues important to both countries, such as energy, economic growth, security, education and health.

Need stressed for Pakistan to stop cross-border attacks into Afghanistan

“The United States has a joint interest with Pakistan in the development of Pakis­tan’s civilian institutions and its economic growth. Our diplomatic and assistance engagement will continue long into the future,” it said.

At a US Senate committee hearing this week, several lawmakers accused Pakis­tan of continuing to allow the Haqqani network to use its territory for conducting terrorist attacks inside Afghanistan. Some senators also asked their witnesses if sanctioning Pakistan could force it to act against the network of terrorists. All three witnesses, however, warned that the sanctions might not produce desired results.

The State Department official, when asked to comment on the remarks made during the debate, said that US civilian assistance to Pakistan “has delivered tangible results that have had a policy and security impact while simultaneously helping Pakistani citizens.”

He noted that the US had helped Pakistan finance and update power plants, hydroelectric dams and power lines, adding 2,400 megawatts to the grid since 2009.

The United States had continued to support Pakistan’s efforts to reform its energy sector and address its crippling energy challenges, the official said. The US also helped build hospitals, schools and roads, particularly in areas vulnerable to violent extremism, and also helped Pakistan foster private sector growth, he added.

At the Senate debate, some lawmakers complained that the assistance had only stren­gthened the Pakistani military while the civilian aid had failed to have a positive im­pact on the Pakistani society.

The State Department spokesperson, while explaining the rationale for staying engaged with Pakistan, noted that the country had suffered greatly at the hands of terrorists and violent extremists.

The statement mentioned several recent terrorist attacks, including the Aug 8 attack at the Civil Hospital in Quetta, the Easter Sunday attack in Lahore, the Jan 20 attack on the Bacha Khan University, last September’s attack on a Pakistan Air Force base in Badaber and the horrendous attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014.

“The United States stands in solidarity with the people of Pakistan and all who fight the menace of terrorism, and we are grateful for the sacrifices the Pakistani military has made in shutting down terrorist safe havens, most recently in the North Waziristan operation,” the official said.

The statement, however, also addressed the issue that some senators had raised in the hearing while discussing the possibility of sanctioning Pakistan: cross border attacks into Afghanistan.

“We have been very clear with the highest levels of the government that Pakistan must target all militant groups — including those that target Pakistan’s neighbours — and close all safe havens,’ the official said.

Pakistan’s leaders had assured the US of their intention to target all militants, the official said, welcoming General Raheel Sharif’s July 6 statement, in which he directed military commanders, intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies to take concrete measures to deny any militant group safe haven or the use of Pakistani soil to launch terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

“We have expressed our deep concern with the government of Pakistan about terrorist safe havens inside its borders that afford violent extremists the ability to undermine Afghanistan’s stability and target US and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan,” said the US official.

Published in Dawn September 13th, 2016

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