McCain fails to move Pakistan on travel curbs


US Senator John McCain on Saturday urged Pakistan to withdraw the restrictions imposed on the movement of American diplomats but he could not get any commitment from the Pakistani leadership, who in turn asked for cooperation and relations with Washington based on mutual respect.
Republican Senator McCain, who reached Islamabad on Saturday on a two-day visit, called on President Asif Ali Zardari soon after his arrival and later met Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani. Improvement in strained Pak-US relations was at the top of Senator McCain’s talks agenda with the Pakistani leadership. However, his emphasis was on the withdrawal of travel restrictions imposed by Islamabad on the US diplomats and he made this demand in all three meetings that he held with the Pakistani leaders. The Foreign Ministry has issued temporary 30-day NoCs to US diplomats for travel around the country but the issue needs to be settled on a permanent basis. The Obama administration decided to seek Senator McCain’s help for the resolution of this thorny issue as he enjoys good repute among Pakistani policy makers for his pro-Islamabad stance.
In the meetings, the influential US senator also extended assurance to the Pakistani leaders that his country would not abandon Pakistan as it did in the late 80s after the withdrawal of erstwhile Soviet Union’s troops from Afghanistan. Senator McCain urged the Pakistani leadership to do away with travel curbs against US diplomats and in return he offered his ‘good offices’ for the improvement in Pak-US relations. “Pakistan, however, didn’t make any commitment with the leading US senator, who was told that Washington must first provide Islamabad with a list of its diplomats as well as complete details of CIA operatives stationed in the country,” said a Pakistani official privy to the vital talks. He said the president, prime minister and COAS asked for a lasting relationship with the US based on mutual respect and beyond the bilateral cooperation in fight against terrorism. The Pakistani leadership also expressed concern over the recent moves in US Congress to reduce assistance to Islamabad under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman law. The issue of delays in the flow of assistance, ROZ legislation and enterprise fund was also raised by the Pakistani leaders.
“Pakistani leaders also reiterated their demand for a halt in the ongoing drone strikes in the Tribal Areas,” the official said. According to a statement from the Presidency, Zardari said that Pakistan wanted to build a long-term, sustainable and multidimensional relationship with the US that was marked by mutual understanding of each others’ interest, mutual trust and respect.