WASHINGTON: Glossing over his country protecting US-proscribed and UN-designated terrorists, Pakistan’s de facto ruler army chief Raheel Sharif told American interlocutors on Wednesday that terrorism is a global threat that warrants “coordinated global response” while pressing for the US intervention to resolve the Kashmir issue.
Dispensing with his military uniform laden with medals and epaulets, Army chief Sharif donned civvies to meet top Obama administration officials and lawmakers on Wednesday and Thursday, as Washington continued its policy of dealing with unelected military generals for security-related issues at the expense of Pakistan’s elected government.
Often switching to a dark suit instead of a military uniform, Sharif met CIA director John Brennan, defense secretary Ash Carter, secretary of state John Kerry, and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in between engaging his military counterparts.
The two sides put on a charade of normalcy despite a widely known dysfunctional relationship in which the Americans have frequently accused Pakistan of supporting terrorist groups, undermining the US agenda in Afghanistan, and killing American soldiers through proxies.
“Meeting with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff is complementary to the continuing, high-level and comprehensive conversations that we have with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,” a US official told TOI amid talk that the Obama administration had virtually endorsed a “soft coup” in Pakistan. “Our meeting with General Sharif focused on our bilateral security and defense relationship,” the official added, pointing out that prime minister Sharif had “comprehensive conversation with President Obama in the White House Oval office.”
Indeed, an Obama meeting was about the only engagement General Sharif failed to achieve as other civilian interlocutors lined up to talk to him to make up for an administration faux pas that initially leaked word that he was visiting Washington without an invitation and on his own volition. With control over access to Afghanistan and a terror spigot it can turn on and off, the Pakistan military ensured that it got adequate attention. Officials indicated General Sharif will also meet vice-president Joe Biden on Thursday.
In a series of self-serving tweets and statements, none of which were endorsed or seconded by the American side, the Pakistan Army’s media wing, headed by a three-star general who is now said to control a pliant Pakistani media, made the usual assertion that Pakistan had made great sacrifices, was a frontline state in the war on terror, had turned the tide, etc, despite its transparent record of harboring internationally wanted terrorists.
“Regional security including Afghanistan and India and need and measures for regional stability dominated discussion. The COAS highlighted need for resolution of Kashmir-2,” tweeted Lt Gen Asim Bajwa, the media manager for the military.
In a series of tweets, the general’s army flack left little doubt that Pakistan is seeking more military goodies while demanding US role in resolving issues with India, including Kashmir. On the last item at least, the administration stuck to its familiar stand.
“The US policy on Kashmir has not changed. We support any and all positive steps India and Pakistan can take to forge closer relations and de-escalate the situation, but the pace, scope, and character of any discussions on Kashmir is for the two sides to determine,” a state department spokesman intoned.
Asked if Kerry discussed Haqqani Network (HQN) or Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) with General Sharif, the administration official said the US does not discuss the details of private diplomatic conversations, “but we consistently raise these issues with the government of Pakistan.”
Kerry has been one of Pakistan’s biggest supporters, overseeing billions of dollars of aid both as senator and as secretary of state, unmindful of Pakistan not delivering on its promises, serial infractions, including sheltering terrorists proscribed by his own state department.
In addition, the Pentagon now plans to give F-16 fighter jets to a military that many experts have accused of killing coalition soldiers. Some analysts have questioned the logic of F-16s to fight terrorism, pointing out that Pakistan was using it to bomb its own civilian population in Balochistan and Khyber-Pashtunistan
General Sharif’s demand for a “coordinated global response” on terrorism comes even as Pakistan’s civilian government this week said it will not accept Pakistani deportees from western countries who have been accused of terrorism connection without adequate proof.
An astonishing 90,000 Pakistanis – a plane load every day – are reported to have been deported in 2014, mainly from Europe, as they have sought greener pastures by riding on the coat tails of Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans.
But Pakistan’s interior minister Chaudhury Nisar said this week he had ordered suspension of the deportations because there was no proof of their association with terrorism and many of them were not even Pakistanis.
General Sharif’s press aides meanwhile claimed that US lawmakers “acknowledged Pak has turned tide of terrorism, assured COAS of US support and cooperation in eradicating terrorism and extremism.”
But even as Pakistani officials claimed that ISIS had no presence in Pakistan, a PEW research poll released on Thursday showed that Pakistanis had the least unfavorable view of ISIS among all countries polled.
While countries such as Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan and others had over 75 per cent unfavorable rating for ISIS, only 28 per cent Pakistanis expressed an unfavorable view of ISIS.