Govt reassessing ties with US: defence minister

ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said on Wednesday the onus of satisfying the United States about its concerns is not on Pakistan.

“We are here to give our point of view logically and with evidence. We will explain our position. But it’s not for us to satisfy them,” Mr Dastgir told reporters at the defence ministry.

The government is currently, in Mr Dastgir’s words, “reassessing ties with the US”, and has simultaneously undertaken a regional outreach ahead of talks with the US on future bilateral engagement.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, after accompanying Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to the UN General Assembly session in New York next week, is expected to visit Washington for the awaited meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Mr Asif’s meeting with Mr Tillerson was originally scheduled for mid-August, but was postponed on Pakistan’s request after US President Donald Trump’s policy statement on Afghanistan and South Asia. The statement was seen here as demeaning to Pakistan, dismissive of its sacrifices in the fight against terrorism and indifferent to Pakistan’s security concerns.

Mr Trump’s speech, in which he accused Pakistan of not adequately acting against terrorist sanctuaries on its soil, was roundly condemned in Pakistan, and the National Security Committee initiated a review to finalise the strategy for dealing with the United States ahead of Mr Asif’s upcoming visit to Washington.

Despite all reservations, however, consensus generally exists here at all levels that a rupture in relations with the United States is not an option.

Mr Dastgir said the two countries needed a frank and candid dialogue on the issues concerning them, as differences between them would reflect in Afghanistan and other regional issues.

The defence minister bemoaned the fact that the US did not share Pakistan’s threat perception about India, which was not only indulging in warmongering but also building up its military capabilities.

He also noted that a nexus between the United States, India and Afghanistan in Kabul threatened Pakistan. “The US knows all, but ignores the threats faced by us because of its strategic interests.”

He said Pakistan would keep raising concerns about India in future engagements with the US. “The United States cannot ignore the threat to us from India. It is [a] serious [situation],” he underscored, adding that it would be major challenge for the Pakistani side to get it acknowledged in the upcoming talks.

Mr Dastgir said the other challenge for Pakistan was the fact that the US “keeps changing the goalposts”.

Pakistan, he said, would advise the US that intensifying kinetic operations (military jargon for lethal or offensive combat missions) in Afghanistan would not work and the only way forward lay in a politically negotiated settlement of the conflict.

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