Pakistan has rejected assertions it has promised Afghanistan to “pick up” fugitive Taliban leaders and deliver them to the negotiating table to sign a peace pact with the Afghan government. A senior government official speaking Monday also defended a landmark pact recently reached between spy agencies of the two countries, describing it vital for joint counterterrorism efforts.
The Pakistani prime minister’s special assistant on foreign policy, Tariq Fatemi, insists that relations with Afghanistan are moving in the “right direction” and says leaders in both countries are determined to maintain the positive trend.
Addressing a gathering of experts, researchers, officials and foreign diplomats at the state-run Institute of Strategic Studies, Fatemi cited Islamabad’s “major departure” from the policy it has until recently pursued in Afghanistan.
He did not elaborate, but the Pakistan military’s covert support to the Taliban insurgency and allowing insurgent leaders to take refuge on Pakistani soil are blamed for deeply rooted suspicions and misgivings among Afghans.
Fatemi insisted Pakistan has denounced as terrorism the Taliban’s violent campaign in Afghanistan and is determined to deny sanctuaries to those destabilizing the neighboring country.
But he rejected Afghan assertions that the new positive trend in relations stems from a commitment by Islamabad to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table using its influence with the Islamist group. Fatemi said Pakistan can play “only a marginal role” in supporting the Afghan national peace and reconciliation efforts.
“Pakistan did not and cannot promise anything. We can only offer our services to promote the objective of reconciliation in Afghanistan," he said. "We had some influence, we may still have some influence, but we are not in a position to pick up people and take them to the conference table and say that 'you sign on the dotted line.' We never made such a promise because we have no such illusions.”
Fatemi said that Pakistan and Afghanistan have in recent months frequently exchanged high-level political, military and intelligence delegations to find ways to deepen counterterrorism cooperation. He said that a memorandum of understanding between spy agencies of the two countries is more proof of improved ties.
He acknowledged that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is facing pressure at home over the deal between the National Directorate of Security and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), but said the pact is essential for effectively countering terrorist forces in the region.
“The two sides have agreed that they will not only engage in real-time intelligence sharing but also consider coordinated action against militants and terrorists," he said. "Now, you cannot have these unless you have the two agencies in agreement as to the parameters of how these would be achieved.”
Afghan lawmakers and political opponents, as well as local media, all have accused President Ghani of selling out to Pakistan and demanded immediate cancellation of the intelligence-sharing deal. Fatemi would not comment on suggestions the domestic backlash to the pact has politically isolated the Afghan president.
“We hold him in very high regard and esteem," he said. "We have seen a visible improvement in relations between Islamabad and Kabul since he has been elected to office. We will do everything possible to strengthen our ties with him and through him with the government of Afghanistan and engage in a mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries.”
Fatemi says that Pakistan has also signed a host of agreements with Afghanistan in recent months to expand economic ties, promote trade and increase connectivity through infrastructure projects.