The US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells during her two-day meetings in Islamabad conveyed to her Pakistani interlocutors that the US wanted to shift to a “new relationship with Pakistan” based on “mutual interest”.
However, the first diplomatic engagement between Pakistan and the United States after the mini-crisis created by President Donald Trump’s tweet ended with Washington renewing its demand for Islamabad to clear its territory of “externally focused terrorists”.
“Ambassador [Alice] Wells urged the government of Pakistan to address the continuing presence of the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups within its territory,” said a US embassy statement at the conclusion of a two-day visit by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells.
Her visit followed the US military’s outreach to Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa to contain the damage caused by the Trump tweet which accused Pakistan of “lies and deceit”.
At conclusion of her two-day visit to Pakistan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Wells says there can be ‘no good or bad terrorists’
Pakistanis too expressed their desire for a continuation of the relationship, but at the same time conveyed a message that the ties could progress towards normalisation only if there were mutual trust and respect.
Ms Wells had suggested to Pakistani leaders that enhanced intelligence cooperation could provide the basis for improvement in ties, especially in counterterrorism cooperation, which is at the heart of the problems in their relations.
“There can be no good or bad terrorists,” said Ambassador Wells during a brief chat with a small group of journalists at the US embassy on Tuesday.
At a pre-arranged meeting with the journalists on a cold morning, she tried to tone down the shrillness prevalent in US-Pakistan relations by speaking in a gentle tone about the long and shared history of the two states. She spoke of projects the US funds in Pakistan, how the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) was deeply in the US’ interest, of effective partnerships and “professional and constructive meetings” that she held a day earlier.
Her calm tone was a world apart from the Twitter diplomacy that has dominated headlines so far this year.
The US diplomat emphasised that Washington opposed any effort to foment separatism inside Pakistan. “We do not support Balochi (sic) separatism,” she added. Later she also stated that the US would not support the use of Afghan soil as a base for hostile acts against Pakistan.
While her tone may have been gentle and calm, there were enough hints about the reasons for the shrillness that has dominated the relationship for some time. She spoke of the “moment of concern” in bilateral relations, of frustration and “our unhappiness that we have not been able to forge an effective partnership in terrorism”.
All of it simply linked back to what appeared to be her firm message that the US was against countries distinguishing between good and bad terrorists.
“All terrorist forces must be fought against,” she said in response to a question — she made it clear that her message in the meetings she held in Islamabad was that “we are seeking to deny any terrorist ability to use terrorism, including groups like the Taliban or Haqqani network… we oppose the use of terrorist proxies by any country…”
The US embassy would only confirm Ambassador Wells’s meetings with the foreign secretary, Miftah Ismail, the adviser on finance, and National Security Adviser retired Lt Gen Nasser Khan Janjua. It was perhaps one of the rare visits during which a US official did not visit the General Headquarters for a meeting with the military leadership — at least there was no publicly known interaction during the trip.
While praising Islamabad’s “extraordinary” fight against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Jamaatul Arhar, she said the US wanted similar efforts against groups trying to destabilise Afghanistan.
By carefully using her words, she explained that Washington’s aim was to find a negotiated political settlement to Afghanistan. And that this was where the US expected Pakistan to play its role.
Making it clear that the US had set no preconditions for talks, the expectation, she said, was that at the end of the process there should be no terrorism and there should be an end to the violence.
The objective, she explained, was to stop the Taliban from winning. This aim does not mean denying that the Afghan Taliban, like other parties, have legitimate political interests — she even said that the Taliban were part of the social and political fabric of society.
She added that the US wanted these interests to be brought to and settled on the negotiating table.
Towards the end of the session, in response to a question about the domestic political situation, the ambassador said that the US supported democratic institutions, as well as the judicial process running its full course.