Pakistan expresses dismay over Blinken’s statement

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday came out strongly against comments made by US lawmakers and Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the recent Congressional hearings on Afghanistan, and clearly said that these comments were not in line with the close cooperation between Pakistan and the US.

This was surprising as Pakistan’s positive role in the Afghan peace process, recent facilitation of the multinational evacuation effort from Afghanistan, and continued support for an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan have been duly acknowledged, including most recently by the US State Department spokesperson in his briefing of September 15, 2021,” said the Foreign Office spokesman here during the weekly media briefing.

Testifying before Congress on the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, Blinken told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that his administration would soon be reassessing its relationship with Pakistan as it has a “multiplicity of interests, some that are in conflict with ours”.

“It is one that is involved hedging its bets constantly about the future of Afghanistan, it’s one that’s involved harbouring members of the Taliban. It is one that’s also involved in different points of cooperation with us on counterterrorism,” Blinken had said.

Pakistan was clearly taken aback by these remarks. “Let me further recall that Pakistan had played a critical role in helping the United States degrade al-Qaeda’s core leadership in Afghanistan, which was the international coalition’s core objective. At the same time, Pakistan had always maintained that there was no military solution to the larger Afghan conflict and that a political settlement offered the only plausible pathway to sustainable peace in Afghanistan – a position now shared by the United States.”

The spokesman brushed aside Blinken’s remarks critical of the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years and the role the US wants to see it play in the coming years. “I would add that achieving an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan that represents Afghanistan’s diversity and reflects the gains made by the country remains a shared objective for Pakistan and the United States. We look forward to building on this convergence while also strengthening other aspects of a broad-based and constructive relationship,” said the spokesman.

However, unlike the earlier criticism by Blinken, Tuesday saw some US senators voice strong support for Pakistan and the role it has played in Afghanistan, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

US Senator Chris Van Hollen said Pakistan was vindicated as it had released three top Taliban commanders after request from the Trump administration which helped pushed peace talks at Doha.

During the presser, the spokesman said that as yet Pakistan had not taken any decision to recognise the caretaker Taliban government in Kabul, when asked if there was any pressure to do so.

“There is no pressure, and we do not take any pressure. We will take independent decisions in line with our interests,” he responded. To a query about remarks that President Arif Alvi had made in which he had pointed to giving amnesty to the TTP (today Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also talked about amnesty), the spokesman shrugged away the query.

“I have no comment to offer on this at this stage,” he said. The spokesman also avoided a direct reply when asked if there was anything specific that the Taliban government had demanded from Pakistan.

“The assistance we have provided in terms of humanitarian support to Afghanistan is in line with the current requirements of the situation. We remain engaged and will continue to assess the situation,” he said.

When asked about the flow of refugees coming from Afghanistan, the spokesman said that fortunately there has been no recent mass exodus from Afghanistan. “As you know Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees for decades. Approximately four million are still in Pakistan. We are not in a position to take any more, as also indicated by the leadership,” he said.

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