Pakistan at ‘Critical Phase’ Against al-Qaeda
Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2009/10/qureshi.jpgPakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (securityconference.de)
The foreign minister of Pakistan vowed that President Asif Ali Zardari’s government had forged an “unprecedented national consensus” to defend a “stable, democratic country where terrorism and extremist ideologies have little or no support” in an address to the Council on Foreign Relations Wednesday afternoon.
access to your markets” in order to provide a durable alternative to extremism. Political and ideological space for extremism in the beleaguered nuclear-armed nation would only be prevented through “social safety nets for the poor” and “declining poverty.”
Illustration by: Matt Mahurin
Qureshi spoke at a momentous time for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Last week, the Senate passed a five-year, $7.5 billion aid package known as Kerry-Lugar that President Obama is expected to sign in the coming days. The Pakistani Army is on the verge of launching a much-delayed offensive in the the mountainous region of Waziristan, where the Pakistani Taliban is headquartered and al-Qaeda’s senior leadership is believed to be hiding. And on Wednesday afternoon, the Obama administration’s war cabinet will assemble at the White House to debate potential changes in its strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, though Qureshi declined to offer advice to the U.S. on the question.
The foreign minister, who is on a public-diplomacy tour of the U.S. to bolster support for his government, said that Pakistan was at “a crucial phase in its fight against terrorism.” He described the Pakistani Taliban as being in “disarray” after its leader, Beitullah Mehsud, was killed in August by a CIA drone strike, saying “no single leader holds sway over disparate factions.” Qureshi did not address the forthcoming anti-Taliban offensive in Waziristan except in passing reference — and after his speech, the Pakistani ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, declined to address the subject — but said that Pakistan needed expanded trade access to western markets for its textiles and other exports if it is to consolidate any military gains. “Is it wiser to keep fighting the fire or [to take] away the oxygen that fuels it?” he asked.
Yet Qureshi hedged when asked about taking action against the leadership of the Afghan Taliban, the former Pakistani client organization that is now based in Pakistan’s city of Quetta. “If we feel there is an element in Quetta that is destabiizing Pakistan, we will not hesitate” to take action, Qureshi said. Asked what that stance meant for the Waziristan offensive, he replied, “We want to clear our territory of all kinds of mischief.”
Similarly, Qureshi declined to give an opinion on whether the U.S. ought to increase troops in neighboring Afghanistan, an option the Obama administration is currently debating. But he said that it would be “useful” for the U.S. and NATO to include Pakistan in its military deliberations, “so our effort is more coordinated, more focused.” Discussions with members of the Obama administration left Qureshi with the impression that a decision will come by “late October [or] early November.”
Qureshi praised the Kerry-Lugar aid bill as the U.S.’s “first visible demonstration of engagement with Pakistan beyond terrorism” and a “very strong signal of a long-term commitment.” Qureshi met with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the architects of the Senate version of the bill, who he said assured him there were no “conditions” on the aid package troubling to Pakistan. While Pakistan’s Geo TV reported earlier today that Obama was delaying signing the bill, a White House spokesman, Thomas Vietor, said there was no truth to Geo’s report.
At the State Department Tuesday, Clinton, who expects to travel to Pakistan soon, praised Qureshi and pledged an “enduring partnership with Pakistan, and to work with the government and the people of Pakistan to help spur sustainable economic development, enhance safety and security, and build on recent progress in the fight against the militants who have spread terror and instability in Pakistan.”