Gen Raheel’s visit ‘very constructive’: US diplomat

LONDON: US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) Dan Feldman has said that Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif’s meetings with the US civil and military leadership have been “very, very constructive” and Pakistan’s military chief was “extremely well received,” demonstrating that the US takes its relations with Pakistan seriously.

In an exclusive interview with Geo News here ahead of the international conference on Afghanistan, Dan Feldman said that Pakistan’s military chief engaged with the US leadership on a broad range of issues as part of a broad dialogue, including “Afghanistan, counterterrorism, bilateral issues between Pakistan and the US and Pakistan security and military dialogue.”

He said that it was the first visit in four years of any Pakistani army chief to the US. He added that the US administration availed every opportunity to engage with Pakistan as seen recently during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the US, his meetings with Joe Biden and others and his meeting with Senator John Kerry in London.

“This shows how seriously we take this relationship and how we want to make sure that it becomes stronger and more constructive.”

He said that the US believed that relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan had improved a lot as both countries realised that they had to work together and that’s why many of these visits have taken place in the last few months.

General Raheel Sharif and Sartaj Aziz visited Kabul and President Ghani visited Islamabad. “These visits were for much greater stability in the region.

There is so much potential in friendship between the two countries and in these meetings, the range of areas of discussion were economic and trade linkages on the border, security and military issues and reconciliation. This is a real moment of opportunity with historic transition to democracy on both sides to come together and move forward.”

When asked about Pakistani fears that anti-Pakistan elements, mainly Indian spy agencies, had used Afghanistan’s soil to create and sponsor terrorism inside Pakistan, Dan Feldman said that “there cannot be safe havens on either side of the border.”

He, however, said that Pakistan hadn’t stated anything significant in this regard recently and that Afghanistan was in such a state that it would accept help from international partners, as economy and peace were linked.

“That’s why I think that Pakistan and Afghan future is important and therein lies the future of connectivity between the two countries and ideally at some point that connects all Central Asia with South Asia through economic linkages.”

When asked about the failure of coalition forces in establishing the writ of the government in all parts of Afghanistan in view of the fact that Taliban exercised control in many areas outside Kabul, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan said, “There have been remarkable strides in Afghanistan in the course of last dozen years and very significantly Afghan security forces are standing up again and helping to safeguard the country.”

He said this was important because the coalition forces were withdrawing, handing over control to the Afghan forces.

He said the US would have a limited presence in the country, limited to training and advising Afghanistan on security matters and along with rest of the Nato countries “to make sure that they continue their important work and also to make sure that al-Qaeda doesn’t come back again.”

When asked if Afghanistan and Pakistan had opened up to each other because Hamid Karzai was not there anymore, the US special representative refused to answer the question directly but stressed that the current circumstances offered a “golden moment of opportunity.

This is a real window of opportunity. There is a new government in Afghanistan and Nawaz Sharif government was voted in only last year.

The fact is that two democratically-elected governments are engaging with each other in a productive way which is very important.”