Pakistan: Stronger Ties with US Would Help Afghan Peace Efforts

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s new government, headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, says it seeks deepened economic, trade and political ties with the United States despite differences over how to conduct joint anti-terror efforts. Ahead of an expected visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a key member of Pakistan’s cabinet tells VOA that close cooperation is also vital for a smooth security transition and stability in neighboring Afghanistan after most American troops leave that country by the end of next year.

Pakistan has been a vital partner in the U.S.-led war against terrorism but its role has always been marred by controversies mainly because of allegations Islamabad never broke ties with the Islamist Taliban leading the insurgency in Afghanistan.

However, Islamabad and Washington have come closer in recent months in a bid to jump-start long-awaited peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The efforts faced major setbacks in recent weeks but officials in Islamabad expect that Kerry’s visit might resurrect the Afghan reconciliation process. It came to a halt because of President Hamid Karzai’s objections to the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar in June.

In a wide-ranging interview, Pakistan’s minister for planning and development, Ahsan Iqbal, told VOA that as Afghanistan’s immediate neighbor, his country will be the first to suffer in the absence of a smooth security and political transition. He noted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and subsequent civil war in the 1990s caused up to four million Afghans to seek refuge in Pakistan. He said about three million refugees still live in the country, a strain on the national economy, while the dislocated population is also partly blamed for the rise in militancy on both sides of the border.

“Therefore, we need to work very closely. We need to have great cooperation between United States, other NATO countries and Pakistan so that we can manage this transition in a peaceful manner,” said Iqbal. “My greatest worry is not just 2014, but post-2014 because in the last 10 years there was a big war economy which was constructed in Afghanistan and, as the [foreign] forces and the military withdraws from Afghanistan, this war economy will collapse and this is going to cause many dislocations. Now again, if there is an influx of Afghan refugees or unemployed Afghan youth who come to Pakistan, we would have very serious implications,” said the minister. (Courtesy: Voice of America )