—Foreign minister asks US to respect Pakistan’s legal process in Shakil Afridi’s case
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Monday said the purpose of his visit to the US was not to seek aid but to build deteriorating ties between the two countries.
“I am not here to talk dollars and cents, I am not here seeking aid,” Qureshi said in an interview with Fox News.
“I am here to fix a relationship that went sour – a relationship that has mutually-benefited both sides. We have been allies for a long time, it is time to rebuild that powerful relationship.”
Qureshi acknowledged that while relations have “soured” significantly between his country and the United States since Trump took office and publicly ramped up pressure on them to do more to obliterate terrorist sanctuaries, his stance is that Pakistan is being unjustly blamed for the destabilisation of neighbouring Afghanistan.
“When you are in a difficult situation you look for scapegoats, for areas and people and institutions that have not delivered to your expectations,” he said. “Pakistan is there to help and facilitate, we recognise that a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in our interest.”
Qureshi insisted that the Pakistani government is in full control of the country, including the rugged and remote tribal regions, and that terror hideouts have been eliminated. He also pointed out that they will “play a role” and use “whatever influence they have” to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table for peace talks, but declined to comment on whether monetary cuts were having an impact on Pakistan’s military or involvement in the protracted war against terror.
Speaking about Dr Shakil Afridi, who helped the US capture Usama bin Laden in Pakistan by running a fake vaccination programme to collect DNA but since then has languished behind bars, Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the issue is not over.
“Openings are always there,” Qureshi said. “He is viewed in a particular light in Pakistan, he is viewed as a traitor in Pakistan. But he is viewed as a friend in the US. So we have to bridge this gap.”
Afridi’s future, Qureshi attested, lies not with politics but with the courts.
“We have a legal process. Afridi went through that legal process, he was given a fair chance to plead his case. He was sentenced, he was convicted and is serving a sentence,” the foreign minister continued. “We expect you to respect our legal process, as we respect yours.”
FM Qureshi arrived in Washington DC on Sunday for talks on bilateral relations with US officials following his trip to New York for the United Nation’s General Assembly session.
In addition to his planned meeting with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, FM Qureshi will also hold a meeting with the country’s National Security Adviser (NSA) John Bolton at the White House.
His first stop is expected to be the White House where he will meet Bolton for talks on untangling Pakistan’s ruffled relations with the US. He will then proceed to the US State Department for his second meeting with the secretary of state.
On Monday, Qureshi will meet Pakistani diplomats and experts to prepare for the crucial talks that are to be held on Tuesday.
Pompeo and Qureshi first met in Islamabad early in September when the US government approached the new Pakistani government to discuss key issues that have strained decades-old ties between the two countries.
It was during his Islamabad visit that Pompeo invited the Pakistani foreign minister to visit Washington for further talks.
Moreover, speaking to a US radio station over the weekend about the newly-elected government’s foreign policy objectives, particularly in regard to the US and Afghanistan, US Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzadsaid said, “Pakistan says now that it wants to turn a new page, that it wants to help the US with its objective of Afghan reconciliation that I outlined. And we’ll have to see.”
Khalilzad said that the Trump administration was ready to learn from the new Pakistani government about how they wanted to address the main issue, Afghanistan.