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'There should be no suspicion over Pak's counter-terror commitments'

November 25, 2010 09:30 IST

In the wake of mounting reports about Pakistan's commitment to fighting terrorism despite American military and economic largesse and credible intelligence of Islamabad's perfidy in maintaining links with militant groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan's ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani argued that the number of Pakistani soldiers killed in fighting militants should silence these critics.

Haqqani addressing a packed audience of American South Asia experts and policy analysts and a select few journalists at the Washington, DC-based think thank, the Atlantic Council, said, "For all those who still point out the lack of conviction on the part of Pakistan in fighting the militants, I would just point out that in 2009, we had an average of 10 Pakistani soldiers killed every day in fighting the militants."

"And there have been more than 31,000 casualties, of which 10,000 took place in 2009," he said, and added, "Pakistan has deployed 80 percent of its army aviation fighting the militants, and there are nine infantry divisions, 483 artillery pieces, and 142 tanks committed to this effort. So, sometimes people don't understand the nature of this war."

Haqqani asserted that as far as Pakistan's war against terrorism is concerned, "There is no going back," and declared, "The Taliban, and the militants and the extremists understand that, because in the last few years, there have been several attacks on Pakistan's intelligence personnel."

He claimed that Pakistan has "lost more intelligence personnel than any other country in the war against terrorism during the last two years. So, the fact that the Taliban and the militants are attacking Inter Services Intelligence shows that as far as they are concerned, they are very clear -- the ISI is an enemy because it fights terrorism. That it is an organisation that is committed to fighting terrorism and that Pakistan understands that the terrorists and their success is not in any way going to be beneficial to Pakistan."

Haqqani said, "The era in which people made arguments about certain Taliban in Pakistan as allies and strategic partners, that period is gone. Pakistan makes no distinction between various militants groups based on their ideology."

The envoy said that "the reason we are not able to accomplish certain things is because of the fact that we cannot fight on all fronts at the same time."

He also argued that now Pakistan is a democracy, "public opinion in a democracy maters and in Pakistan, there is public opinion now in favour of fighting militants and Taliban, but there are still a lot of people who are convinced about what Pakistan's priorities should be."

"So, we are doing our best under the circumstances and hopefully we will tackle all terrorist groups irrespective of whether their targets are local, regional or international, and we intend to fulfill that obligation," he said.

Denying that Pakistan was trying to destabilise Afghanistan for its own vested interests, said unlike in the past when president and military dictator Pervez Musharraf and Afghansitan President Hamid Karzai refused to shake hands in the White House, Pakistan's democratically elected President Asif Ali Zardari and Karzai were the best of friends and continued to meet frequently and the latter was among the leaders who attended Zardari's inauguration.

He said Pakistan had "now been able to convince Afghanistan leaders of Pakistan's great desire is to stabilise Afghanistan. A stable Afghanistan that is led by Afghans, run by Afghans and which is not a center for any extreme ideology."

Haqqani acknowledged that "there were people in Pakistan, and for that matter, I am sure there are people there even now who think that, but they are not the people who are running the government. They are people who thought that that the Taliban might provide some kind of strategic advantage to Pakistan, but that is something of the past."

He reiterated that "everybody in the Pakistan government understands that the Taliban getting control of any part of Afghanistan would threaten Pakistan and Pakistan's way of life. We do not want a future for our children in which girls cannot go to school. We do not want to be isolated from the rest of the world."

Haqqani said, "We want to be a progressive, modern, democratic state and that is not possible by having Taliban in charge next door or in any part of our own country. That is something on which there is much more clarity today than there was in the past."

He said, "The Afghan leaders, if they start a reconciliation process and called upon us to provide assistance in that, we are there to assist and facilitate that. After all, we have been home to five million refugees at one time and are home to three million Afghan refugees even today."

"So, we do have a role to play," Haqqani argued. "But we will not demand a role that is not acceptable to our Afghan brothers. It is Afghanistan that has to lead a reconciliation process and an Afghan-led reconciliation process will have full support from Pakistan."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC