Speaking by video teleconference from Washington, Pakistan Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman participated in a debate with President Obama’s top advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan held at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on Saturday. The debate centred on the war on terror and the points of friction it has given rise to between Islamabad and Washington. She not only aptly rebutted criticism of Pakistan’s role in the war with solid reasons, but also outlined its grievances in a forthright manner. Mainly, three issues – the drone attacks, the so-called safe havens in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan and Dr Shakil Afridi – came up for discussion. Ms Rehman forcefully pleaded the case against the continued drone strikes, saying that while in the beginning they were able to hunt down militants, they were now adding “to the pool of recruits we are fighting against”. Keeping in mind the meeting with the intelligence officials of the two countries, Ambassador Rehman said, “We will be seeking an end to drone strikes and there will be no compromise on that.” It is expected that when DG ISI Lt-General Muhammad Zaheerul Islam meets his counterpart next week he would succeed in convincing him that the drone attacks are openly violating its territorial sovereignty.  The deaths of innocent civilians have an inevitable backlash: the hostility of the affected population towards Pakistan for siding with a country that rains death and destruction on them. This is, by no means, an idle argument; the more so in the case of a people in whose blood the spirit of revenge is deeply embedded, as is evidenced in the widespread terrorist attacks in the country.

Ms Rehman also gave an emphatic and convincing justification for the arrest of Dr Shakil Afridi: he was hobnobbing with foreign intelligence agencies and militants who were endangering the lives of our soldiers, without any knowledge of the end objective he was working for. His arrest, she argued, reflected that the rule of law prevailed in Pakistan. The remark of the CBS correspondent Steve Kroft who led the discussion, “(Pakistanis) have more loyalty to Osama bin Laden than they do to the United States” is slanderous and deliberately misleading. May one ask former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, who interjected with the observation, “outrageous” while referring to Afridi’s arrest, how the US would treat a citizen who is found keeping contacts with the foreign intelligence agents without its permission?

Ambassador Rehman, speaking on the question of safe havens, drew attention to the 52 times in the past eight months that Islamabad informed the American and Nato commanders of the whereabouts of Pakistani Taliban, who have found sanctuaries in Afghanistan were making cross-border raids into Pakistan. She rightly maintained that Pakistan should not at least get a different treatment for handling of militants in its lawless region than Afghanistan.