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On edge of pullout, US, Nato laud Pak role
 
 
 


BRUSSELS/ISLAMABAD  - Nato and the US stressed Monday the importance of their ties with Pakistan in the fight against terrorism as the western military allies prepare the way for their 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan.Pakistan’s Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in his address to a meeting of EU political and military officials, reiterated Pakistan’s support to an Afghan-led reconciliation process, while highlighting Islamabad’s perspective on regional challenges and his nation’s sacrifices in the war on terror.Kayani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar Monday arrived in Belgian capital on a two-day visit to meet European Union and Nato officials. They were also to meet on Monday with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who would lead Nato foreign ministers on Tuesday and Wednesday at meetings at alliance’s Brussels headquarters where Afghanistan would be top agenda item.Commenting on the reconciliation process in Afghanistan during his address to a joint meeting of EU Political and Security Committee and the EU Military Committee, General Kayani said Pakistan remains wholehearted committed to an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process in the war-ravaged neighboring country, according to an ISPR statement.The mouthpiece of Pakistan Army said that the army chief highlighted Pakistan’s perspective on these issues with particular reference to the nation’s contribution and sacrifices in the war against terror. Ambassadors and delegates, comprising defence and military officials of 27 EU nations, participated in the interactive event at which they discussed situation in Afghanistan, its effects on regional peace and security, and other related issues.Earlier at a separate meeting with Foreign Minister Hina on Monday, Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen told her, “Most urgently, we need to remain united to defeat terrorism… At Nato we understand well that Pakistan has paid a high price in these efforts. The alliance stands together with you to combat this scourge.”It is “clear that the pursuit of peace and security in your region is in the interest of the broader international community. That includes peace in Afghanistan, where Pakistan has a particular role to play,” Rasmussen was quoted as saying in a statement.The statement said Khar also held talks with the North Atlantic Council, Nato’s government body, where officials voiced their readiness to “develop political dialogue and cooperation with Pakistan.” They also stressed that “Pakistan’s positive engagement was needed to ensure long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region,” it said.As Hillary and Hina travelled to Brussels to discuss the future of Afghanistan and wide-ranging Pak-US bilateral relationship, the United States acknowledged Pakistan’s recent steps in support of Afghan reconciliation bid. A senior US official said that Secretary Clinton would get together with Foreign Minister Hina Khar and Army Chief Gen Asfaq Parvez Kayani during the Nato summit in Brussels.Previewing the US-Pakistan meeting en route to Europe, a senior State Department official in a special briefing noted that in the overall context of progress towards Afghan stability, the Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relationship was really the most important thing of all.According to a transcript released by the US State Department, the official said: “I think over the past few months that we see some very interesting developments… the visit of the High Peace Council Chair (Salahuddin) Rabbani to Islamabad, where there were some prisoner releases and also discussion about the road forward. General Kayani then went to Kabul almost immediately afterwards to meet again with the leadership in Afghanistan. And then just last week, I think, Foreign Minister Rassoul of Afghanistan went to Islamabad to continue that conversation.”“If you look at the joint statement that they issued, it talks about all of the things that the Secretary (Clinton) has been interested in over this past couple of years, which is their work together, economic aspects of this, peace and reconciliation. So there’s a lot, I think here, on the Pak-Afghan side in support of Afghanistan.”Secondly, the officials said, the so-called Core Group, which includes the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan, has been meeting regularly and in Tokyo called on the Taliban to participate in a political process in Afghanistan. “The Core Group has now met eight times altogether. Most importantly,… it’s got a subgroup that focuses in on safe passage. In other words, those Taliban, who are in Pakistan and may wish to move someplace for a reconciliation conversation, peace conversation, the Core Group is working on how to manage that safe passage.”“Thirdly, American and Pakistani officials will review at the Brussels meeting where we stand in the region… We were in Istanbul last November, where we got the region together totalk about a secure, stable, prosperous Afghanistan inside of a secure, stable, prosperous region. That effort – Istanbul, Bonn, and Chicago and Tokyo – really has been followed up, and Istanbul in particular has been followed up by the region.  The Pakistanis have played a very good, I think, and constructive role on what they call the Heart of Asia process,” the official noted.The senior American official rejected the impression that Islamabad was holding off on reconciliation progress until a new national security team was in place for the US Administration. “I’ve not sensed any Pakistani hesitation about kind of our leadership and change in our leadership,” the official said.Nato has some 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, about two-thirds of them US soldiers, but plans to withdraw them progressively by 2014 as Afghan forces take over security.US officials said Hillary Clinton in her meeting with Hina and Gen Kayani will seek to encourage what Washington sees as an improving mood between Pakistan and its neighbor Afghanistan. Besides discussions on security, the issue of United States’ efforts to expand the economic relationship with Pakistan was also expected to come up in the meeting, the added.A US official pointed to better signs since Washington’s ties with Islamabad hit a low in 2011 after US forces killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden while he was hiding in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.He noted exchanges of high-level visits between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Nato still has a large multinational force, and Pakistan’s release of Taliban prisoners as requested by the Afghans to help smooth the way for peace talks with the Islamists.“I think the Pakistanis are actually pressing forward (on improving relations) because, like a lot of people in the region, they recognise that 2014 is not so far away,” he said.

 
 
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