As the Trump Administration debates sets its policy for the way forward in Afghanistan, it will also need to consider the role of Pakistan in helping to provide security in the region. The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel spoke with Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, to discuss current U.S.-Pakistani relations as well as current instability in Afghanistan.
TCB: How would you assess the current state of U.S.-Pakistan relations? In what areas is cooperation strongest between the two countries? In what areas could this relationship be further improved?
Ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry: Pakistan and the United States have enjoyed historic ties spanning over several decades. This relationship is diverse and wide-ranging, covering different strands including infrastructure development, economy and trade, counterterrorism, and defense cooperation. Besides, the million-strong presence of Pakistani-Americans living in the U.S. serves as an enduring linkage between the two countries.
I believe there is a great potential to further deepen this relationship in areas of mutual interest.
TCB: The U.S. has significant security interests in Afghanistan, but the Taliban continues to conduct regular attacks in the country and conquer territory. Many have claimed that Pakistan provides safe havens to the Taliban and the Haqqani network. Does Pakistan provide safe havens to the Taliban and the Haqqani network? If not, how has Pakistan worked to expel these organizations?
Chaudhry: Pakistan, being the immediate neighbor of Afghanistan, has suffered the most from instability inside Afghanistan. In fact, Pakistan’s successful counterterrorism operations and recent economic revival face risks because of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
According to various U.S. reports and briefings, many militants crossed over to Afghanistan following Pakistan’s counterterrorism operations in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas. Because these escaping militants could not be captured or stopped due to capacity constraints on the other side of the border, they established safe havens and sanctuaries inside Afghanistan. The renewed wave of insurgency in Afghanistan is being driven from these internal sanctuaries.
TCB: Experts have suggested that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency maintains close ties to the Taliban and the Haqqani network. What is the relationship between ISI and the Taliban and the Haqqani network?
Chaudhry: It is totally an absurd suggestion, which does not even call for a comment. Pakistan’s intelligence agency and our law enforcement authorities have played a critical role in decimating al Qaeda and other terrorist networks in the region.
TCB: What steps can Pakistan take to push the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government?
Chaudhry: Negotiating with Taliban remains a responsibility of the Afghan government since they are the direct stakeholders for peace in their country. Pakistan’s role is that of a facilitator, along with the U.S. and other players in the region. We have assured our friends that Pakistan is prepared to contribute on its part since we wish peace and stability in Afghanistan.
TCB: There seems to be a certain element of mistrust between the U.S. and Pakistan with the U.S. claiming Pakistan supports militant groups and Pakistan claiming it does not. How do we bridge this divide? How can trust between the two countries be enhanced?
Chaudhry: You have rightly pointed out that building mutual trust between Pakistan and the U.S. would be important to promote peace in the region. The history tells us that when our two countries collaborated with mutual cooperation, positive results were achieved, for example, in the fight against al Qaeda. That is why we believe that trust and mutual respect should constitute the key pillar of Pakistan-U.S. relationship as both the countries genuinely desire peace and stability in the region.