WASHINGTON - Pakistan is seeking cooperation of US forces in Afghanistan and their Afghan partners in its efforts to ensure that the militants displaced by the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan do not return and regroup in the same area to make its anti-terror drive along the border conclusive, Ambassador to the United States Jalil Abbas Jilani said Friday.
“We need to cooperate very closely to ensure that these people do not come back and regroup because that would again have very serious consequences,” he said while speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado in a discussion on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Other participants were Afghan Ambassador to US Eklil Hakimi, Special Assistant and Senior Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan National Security Council Jeffrey Eggers and Gen (r) John Allen who was previously commander of ISAF forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan, Jilani explained, is making every possible effort. “We are screening each and everybody, including the IDPs who are moving into settled areas. Our expectation would be that the same thing is done on the Afghan side as well because 40,000 to 50,000 people have moved to Afghanistan.”
He categorically told the forum that Pakistan’s ongoing operation in North Waziristan is absolutely targeting all militants, including the Haqqani group.
Eggers of the National Security Council urged Pakistan to prevent displaced Haqqani militants from returning to their traditional sanctuary after the Pakistani military offensive near the Afghanistan border.
The US blames the Haqqani network, which mainly operates out of Pakistan’s border areas, for some of the deadliest and most sophisticated attacks on Nato and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.
“What we’ve asked for is that the Haqqanis have been displaced, but they should not be allowed to regroup and resettle back into those historical areas,” Eggers added. That would break a long tradition of tolerating those who did not target the Pakistani state, he said.
Ambassador Jilani acknowledged that Haqqani fighters almost certainly fled the region ahead of the military operation because it was pre-announced. But he also sought more to be done across the border in Afghanistan to deal with the militants who have fled there.
“We are having good cooperation, but I think something more is required to be done in order to make sure that the successes are conclusive,” Jilani said. “While the hammer is in full swing, we only hope that the anvil we have been talking about for a long time that would also appear one day, because our apprehension is that many of the people belonging to the Haqqani network have entered Afghanistan,” Ambassador Jilani said in reference to the Zarb-e-Azb operation.
Pakistan, he said, is having discussions with the United States and Afghanistan on these kinds of apprehensions. “We are having a good cooperation, but I think something more is required to be done in order to make sure that the successes we are achieving in North Waziristan are conclusive, and we should make every possible effort that these militants find no refuge anywhere,” the seasoned diplomat held.
Ambassador Jilani said: “This is the time we need to engage in some serious, discreet and candid discussions – not through the media.”
He felt things are looking better in the region, and referred to political transitions, including in India, the ongoing transition in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s own democratic transition last year. “These political transitions can bring about a lot of stability,” he said.
“India-Pakistan improvement in relations will also bring good stability in Afghanistan because that also over the years became a contention between us,” he observed.
Afghanistan’s envoy to Washington Hakimi said his information suggested that Haqqani militants had safe passage inside Pakistan and were going elsewhere inside that country.
When the moderator said whether the remarks by the Pakistani and Afghan envoys could be interpreted as polite accusations against each other, Ambassador Jilani remarked: “We need to cooperate rather than accusing each other.”
He also pointed out that after Afghanistan it is Pakistan that has suffered the most on account of 30 years of Afghan wars and conflicts. He said everybody made mistakes in the past.
“The operation we are conducting is absolutely colourless, it is indiscriminate, and we are getting the results,” he asserted.
The current operation in the tribal areas had been in the planning since January this year and there were discussions taking place in the media, in the parliament, with the Afghan side and the United States, he said while commenting on the suggestion that the Haqqani militants could have disappeared.
“From our point of view the important thing is to eliminate the capacity of these forces that had made Waziristan their sanctuary,” he averred.
On Pakistan-US relations, Ambassador Jilani noted a marked improvement from a couple of years ago, saying today there are more convergences than the issues.” He also appreciated that the provision of US equipment has been very helpful in Pakistan’s going after militants.
Gen (r) John Allen, former ISAF commander in Afghanistan, echoed past concerns about the Haqqani network militants, but saw an opportunity in the current Pakistani offensive. He also acknowledged Pakistan’s key role in enforcing security along Pakistan-Afghanistan border over the years.
“Pakistan’s casualties in just last three years exceed those killed in action of the ISAF forces in 13 years,” Allen noted. “Pakistan often does not get the credit it deserves for the efforts it has made,” he remarked.
The discussion also touched on the controversial drone operations. Ambassador Jilani said drones are a sensitive issue in Pakistan on moral, human rights and legal grounds as well as with regard to the question of sovereignty and that such actions are counterproductive to Islamabad’s anti-terrorism efforts. When the drones were suspended for six months, the US image among Pakistanis improved by 13 points, he maintained.
As the drawdown nears in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan will have to shoulder even more responsibility, the ambassador said.