WASHNGTON: Pakistan on Monday emphasised the importance of an “appropriate” American apology over Salala incident to move forward the relationship as Islamabad's ambassador in Washington Sherry Rehman sought greater appreciation of the Pakistani perspective on the fight against terror.
Speaking at a conference on the Captiol Hill, the Pakistani envoy also called for respect for her country's sovereignty and an end to US drone strikes on Pakistani territory.
Ambassador Rehman, who referred to both challenges and opportunities in Pakistan-US relationship, said the two countries are in a “critical phase” of negotiating new terms of engagement and narrowing down their differences.
US Coordinator for non-military assistance for Pakistan Ambassador Robin Raphael also spoke at the moot on relations between the two countries.
In her speech, Ambassador Rehman said that once the two countries surmount current challenges in the relationship, they have a lot to gain from a mutually productive and respectful relationship.
She said, had not closed the Nato supply lines into landlocked Afghanistan to “price-gouge” but after the Salala incident.
“These (ground lines of communication) were closed following the Salala incident and remain closed pending a US apology. The debate on the matter has been wrongly cast as a price haggle or price gouging in the US media. This is not the case.”
“We want our American friends to respect our sovereignty and territorial integrity. This means no drone attacks and no incursions into Pakistani territory,” she said at a conference organised by the Pakistani-American Congress.
“An appropriate apology for the Salala incident of November 26, 2011 in which twenty four Pakistani soldiers were killed in a US air attack is also needed,” she said.
Sherry Rehman said she is not highlighting Pakistan's sacrifices as part of some “victim narrative” but reminding the world of the key contributions her country has made in fighting terrorism over last several years.
She said a better understanding of Pakistani point of view in the United States about Pakistan's contributions and sacrifices in fighting extremism would help the cause of the relationship.
“We have helped to arrest or neutralise nearly 250 al Qaeda members, provided the US free use of our highways to transport supplies to Afghanistan. We have lost more than 37,000 Pakistanis to terrorism. Over five thousand security and law enforcement personnel have laid down their lives fighting terrorism.”
She said the two sides are in a critical phase of re-framing our terms of engagement.
“I hope we can narrow our differences and move expeditiously forward. In the context of our region, Pakistan and the United States working individually, are a lot less effective than the sum of the two working together.”
The ambassador said that “both the countries need to focus on the positives, try to understand each other's narratives, show understanding for each other's priorities and constraints, and treat each other as sovereign nations engaged as partners in the defining struggle of our times defeating terrorism.”
“We on the Pakistan side are trying to do so. We urge our friends on the US side to make a similar commitment. The first step in that direction must be to stay away from coercive diplomacy through the media.”
The Pakistani envoy reaffirmed Islamabad's commitment to a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, saying it is in the interests of everyone that Pakistan's western neighbor is secure and stable.
Pakistan has no desire to treat Afghanistan as its strategic backyard, she remarked.
She hoped that the 2014 withdrawal of international forces Afghanistan would be responsible and said Pakistan's anxieties in this respect are rooted in the past, when it allied with the US-led partners in the fight against Soviet occupation of its neighbor but the international partners left the region and Pakistan to contend with wreckage of the Afghan war.
“Pakistan is committed to a sovereign Afghan led programme of reconciliation. Whatever administration, dispensation Afghan chooses it must be Afghan-led, and Afghan-run.”
She told the gathering of diplomats, American experts and Pakistani-Americans, is seeking to roll back tide of extremism that beset the country since its encounter with Soviet Union on behalf of the United States and other international partners.
On the role of the Pakistani Diaspora, the envoy said, they have a very valuable role to play in helping the two sides bridge the present gap in the relationship.