Pakistan hails Trump’s desire for 'great ties'

ISLAMABAD/WASHING­­TON: The Foreign Office welcomed US President Donald Trump’s remarks on ties with Pakistan and said the government was keenly waiting for the engagement at the highest level.

“We look forward to positive engagement with the US at the leadership level,” FO spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal said at the weekly media briefing. He was giving his reaction to President Trump’s comments about Pakistan during a cabinet meeting.

Mr Trump repeated the allegation of Pakistan being duplicitous in its dealings with America. He, nevertheless, expressed his desire for better ties with Islamabad.

“When we give money to Pakistan, $1.3 billion, I ended that. A lot of people don’t know it, because they haven’t been fair to us. We want to have a great relationship with Pakistan, but they house the enemy, they take care of the enemy. We just can’t do that,” President Trump had said.

About engaging with the Pakistani leadership, he said: “So, I look forward to meeting with the folks from — and the new leadership in Pakistan, we’ll be doing that in the not-too-distant future. I ended the $1.3 billion we paid, it’s like water, we just do it.”

Mr Trump’s comments show that his view of Pakistan has not changed even though he may have expediently changed his strategy on dealing with it.

One of his closest allies in Congress, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, even offered a free trade deal to Pakistan if Islamabad persuades the Taliban to participate in the US-backed Afghan peace process. Senator Graham, known in Washington as a Trump ally who often floats ideas that the Trump administration wants debated, made this offer in a CNN interview.

Soon after that, President Trump outlined his new Afghan strategy in the cabinet meeting, seeking greater roles for India, Russia and Pakistan in fighting the Afghan Taliban.

Mr Trump’s views reflect those of two prominent think tank experts who also underlined the need to persuade Pakistan, India, China and Russia to fight the Taliban in articles published in The New York Times and The American Conservative magazine.

The US president had last month written a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking Pakistan’s help for Afghan peace process. Islamabad later facilitated a meeting between the United States and Taliban in Abu Dhabi that was also attended by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Another meeting has been planned in Saudi Arabia, but its dates have not been made public as yet.

“You are aware that on the request of the US and the Afghan government, Pakistan is facilitating peace talks between the United States and the Taliban,” the FO spokesman recalled.

Notwithstanding the accusation of housing the enemy, Dr Faisal looked on the bright side and said: “President Trump’s remarks are indeed a departure from his tweet of January 1, 2018.”

Mr Trump had on the New Year Day in 2018 tweeted: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

The FO spokesman underscored that Pakistan wanted peace to return to Afghanistan so that Afghan refugees in Pakistan could return home and there could be “beginning of an era of prosperity and normalcy in the region”.

Responding to a question about the death of Baloch separatist Aslam Baloch alias Achhu in a suicide attack in Kandahar, he said the Afghan government had so far not shared any details with Pakistan.

“We expect that the Afghan government undertakes a comprehensive inv­es­tigation to find out and clarify how a terrorist comma­nder from a banned terrorist outfit was residing in an Afghan city and who were providing him refuge in Afghanistan,” he said, adding: “It is important that Afghanistan does not let any country, terrorist group or individual to use its territory against Pakistan.”

Ties with Bangladesh

Commenting on elections in Bangladesh, Dr Faisal welcomed Awami League’s success and expressed the hope that the party would during its tenure in office adopt a forward-looking approach in ties with Pakistan.

“We want Pakistan-Bangladesh relations to move forward in line with the 1974 tripartite agreement. We welcome the newly elected government in Bangladesh and hope and expect that it would help take the bilateral relationship away from the irritants that it has faced in the recent times,” the spokesman said.

The Awami League-led coalition won the violence-hit elections held last Sunday to get a consecutive third term in office. Opposition parties in Bangladesh have rejected the polls as “farcical”.

Pakistan-Bangladesh ties have remained tense since the Awami League came to power in 2009 and restarted the trial of people accused of ‘war crimes’ during the 1971 separation. This has been a major irritant in the bilateral relationship. Since the inception of ‘War Crimes Tribunal’ in 2010, a total of 52 accused have been sentenced to death. Six of them have been executed so far.

Pakistan has consistently called for adherence to the Tripartite Agreement of April 1974 under which Bangladesh’s founding father Mujibur Rehman had ended prosecution of the elements his government had accused of ‘war crimes’ during the 1971 events.

The 1974 agreement signed in Delhi by the then foreign ministers of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan had included a commitment from Dhaka that “the Government of Bangladesh had decided not to proceed with the trials as an act of clemency”.

Corruption cases

Responding to a question, the FO spokesman shared details of the corruption cases against diplomats and other employees of the foreign ministry. Probe into cases of an accountant posted in Bulgaria, deputy head of mission in Singapore and ambassador have been completed. The case against high commissioner in South Africa, he said, was sub judice.

Allegations against the ambassador in Portugal could not be substantiated and the officer has been cleared, he added.