Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard G. Olson praised Pakistan for taking important steps to support regional stability and has said that the country’s counterterrorism cooperation with the United States on al-Qaeda has been critical in decimating the terrorist groups.
Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives, Olson said that from a low point in 2011, the two countries have worked hard to build a more stable and forthright relationship that increasingly focused on shared strategic goals, shaped through the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue.
Praising Pakistan for extending support for regional stability, the SRAP said that last July Pakistan facilitated a direct meeting between Afghan government and Taliban officials in Murree, Pakistan, a milestone in our ongoing efforts to pursue a political settlement in Afghanistan.
Pakistan hosted the regional Heart of Asia conference last week, attended by President Ghani, which yielded productive discussions about regional cooperation to advance the peace process and Afghanistan’s long-term stability, he added.
Olson said that on the margins of the conference, Pakistani, Afghan, Chinese, and U.S. leaders affirmed their commitment to resuming direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
“We believe Pakistan will be key to facilitating a peace process with the Taliban, and we hope Pakistan will follow through on its stated commitment to Afghan-owned, Afghan-led reconciliation,” he added.
He said that a second round of Pakistani facilitated talks between the Taliban and Afghan Government could help to build momentum for a nascent peace process.”We expect the next Strategic Dialogue Ministerial to be scheduled in the early part of next year, which will allow us to continue frank and open conversations on all of these issues.”
On bilateral relations between Pakistan and the United States, Olson said that despite many challenges, Pakistan will continue to be an important partner for the United States for the near future, particularly in light of US presence in Afghanistan.
The SARP said that it was important not to overlook the significant progress made in the last few years. He said that since taking over in 2013, the present government in the last two years has made progress across economic and security factors.
He said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his administration have restored macroeconomic stability to Pakistan and improved economic growth.”Indeed, Pakistan has continued to make progress implementing its IMF programme. These improvements led Moody’s to increase Pakistan’s credit rating in May of this year.”
While structural changes are still needed to set Pakistan’s economy on a path to accelerated growth, he said that the reforms to date are a considerable accomplishment, and Pakistan presents commercial opportunities for many U.S. companies.
Olson also informed the lawmakers about the progress Pakistan has made on the security front. He said Pakistan initiated large-scale counterterrorism operations in FATA in June last year after the attack on Army Public School galvanised public opinion and pushed the government to increase its counterterrorism efforts, even in settled areas.
Pakistan has conducted Operations Khyber I, Khyber II, and Zarb-e-Azb in the FATA, the latter of which is ongoing and Pakistan plans to sustain through 2019, he added. “Through these operations, Pakistan has rooted out many terrorist safe havens and recovered more than 160 tons of improvised explosive device (IED) precursors.”
These operations and other steps have come at a cost, he said and added that operations in the FATA caused massive destruction of civilian communities and have displaced over 700,000 individuals. “However, we have also concurrently seen improvements to domestic security across the country.”
He said the Pakistani National Action Plan (NAP), announced by Prime Minister Sharif after the Peshawar attack and endorsed by all political parties in an effort to address violent extremism holistically, has led to progress, including a significant improvement in the security of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.
“In addition to taking action on internal threats, Pakistan’s counterterrorism cooperation with the United States on al-Qaida has been critical in decimating the organisation,” he added.
The SRAP said that while there have been differences of opinion sometime, “We are able to communicate frankly on the things that are most important to us and find opportunities to make incremental progress.”
“My personal experience has shown me that sustained, consistent engagement with Pakistan, its government, its military, and its people, is the best way to address challenges and advance our core interests and to shape Pakistan’s long-term future.”
He said the United States continue to press for greater cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, both to stabilise the common border region and to build the constructive relationship necessary for regional stability. “We will not be able to eradicate militant groups until both sides of the border are effectively secured.”