Keramat sees long-term US-Pakistan strategic ties, opposes US operation

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Former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Gen Jehangir Karamat (Retd) saw a sustained long-term strategic relationship between the two allies as he said any transient developments should not be allowed to overtake their overall goal toward security and stability.
Speaking at a Washington think tank along side ex-US CENTCOM chief Gen Anthony Zinni (Retd) and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, he opposed the notion of US forces operating on Pakistani soil for any counterterrorism bid.
The former army chief said ideas of “covert or overt” US intervention in the tribal areas “are not going to address the threat” of terrorism on the Western border with Afghanistan.
“In fact, al Qaeda and the Taliban may welcome that kind of an action, nobody else will, and of course, it will also strengthen the Islamists connection that militants are very keen on and weaken the secular and liberal elements,” he remarked at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday evening.
He stressed that “it is time that the whole situation” should be looked at “within the US-Pakistan strategic relationship, not to go into areas, which will not help us combat this threat, and which will undermine the institutions, which we are going to rely on to tackle this threat, we need to go into a very comprehensive strategy over a long-term, because it is going to be there for several years, it’s not going to go away in a hurry.”
The United States, he emphasized, cannot afford to walk out of the region.
“There is no doubt in my mind that it (US-Pakistan) is a strategic relationship—that we have moved into an era where if the US could walk away from the regions in the past, it cannot do so now — if it does so, it risks seriously undermining, destabilizing areas which are very important for US. So I don’t see that happening.”
“Because of that I think the US Pakistan relationship has a future, has sustainability, it’s just that we should not allow transient developments, which are inevitable in a strategic relationship, to overtake the overall goal to which we are heading, we need to keep that goal in mind and keep moving in that direction.”
Pakistan, he observed, is a crucial ally of the United States and added that “for Pakistan, the US is a very important ally.”
“The US-Pakistan strategic relationship has a great future and we must do everything to make sure that it keeps progressing in the direction that we want to move.”
Karamat explained the complexity of situation on the rugged and porous border in the context of presence of 2 million Afghan refugees on the Pakistani side, daily crossings by local populace at several places along 2500 km long border and stated the militancy expanded into Pakistan from Afghanistan.
“So if you put together this whole picture that exists on the ground, US and Nato operating in the southern Afghanistan and the center of gravity of militancy in southern Afghanistan, you can understand how it has spread into Pakistan’s tribal areas—all the conditions favored this expansion into Pakistan.”
Jehangir Karamat favored a holistic strategy—having military, political and development prongs—to curb extremism threat.
In answer to a question, he described the martyrdom of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto as a great loss for the nation and said her removal from the scene has created an imbalance.
Ambassador Karamat said the freedom of the media that has come under this dispensation is there to stay and continue. Similarly, he added, the civil society has developed as a powerful force and is there to stay. “There is a tremendous urge for democracy and stability—the urge is more urgent now when we have threat on western border—we want our country to come together, we want a democratic dispensation, which can bring the country together and cope with this threat with the military being supported with the full force of public and the population .”
In his remarks, Gen Zinni reaffirmed support for US providing technical and equipment assistance to Pakistan in enforcing Afghan border security.
“We are two nations that absolutely have the same strategic gains and absolutely need each other — this is one of the most important strategic relationships in that area.”
He said instead of trying to find faults with the relationship, “we need to look forward to building greater relationship based on mutual security interests, the interest of creating stability in that region, whether it is economic, political or security.” Zinni praised Pakistani military’s high professional standards and its commitment to duty and acknowledged the sacrifices the country’s security forces have made in the fight against terrorism. He also lauded President Pervez Musharraf’s commitment to fight off extremism challenges in the interest of Pakistan.
Both Zinni and Richard Armitage argued in favour of enhancing capabilities of Pakistani security forces in fighting off terrorism challenges.

Copyright APP (Associated Press of Pakistan), 2008