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I am here to fix relationship that went sour: Shah Mehmood

02 October, 2018

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WASHINGTON: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that Pakistan was being ‘unjustly blamed’ for the destabilization of neighbouring Afghanistan.

“When you are in a difficult situation, you look for scapegoats, for areas and people and institutions that have not delivered to your expectations,” he told Fox News in an interview. “Pakistan is there to help and facilitate, we recognize that a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in our interest,” he said, and pointed out that they will play a role and use ‘whatever influence they have’ to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table for peace talks.

Qureshi acknowledged that relations have ‘soured’ significantly between his country and the United States since Trump took office and publicly ramped up pressure on them to do more to obliterate terrorist sanctuaries.

The foreign minister insisted that the Pakistani government is in full control of the country, including the rugged and remote tribal regions, and that terror hideouts have been eliminated. He, however, declined to comment on whether monetary cuts were having an impact on Pakistan’s military or involvement in the protracted war against terror. “I am not here to talk dollars and cents, I am not here seeking aid,” he said. “I am here to fix a relationship that went sour – a relationship that has mutually benefited both sides. We have been allies for a long time, it is time to rebuild that powerful relationship,” he added.

Talking about Dr Shakil Afridi, the foreign minister said the issue could be discussed with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Afridi’s future, Qureshi said, lies with the courts, not the politics. “We have a legal process. Afridi went through that legal process, he was given a fair chance to plead his case. He was sentenced, he was convicted and is serving a sentence,” he said. “We expect you to respect our legal process, as we respect yours.”

Qureshi, who represented his country at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week, said, “He is viewed in a particular light in Pakistan, he is viewed as a traitor there. But he is viewed as a friend in the US. So we have to bridge this gap. Openings are always there.”

Critics – including the highest levels of the United States government – disagree that Afridi was afforded a just trial, staunchly contending that he has been ‘unjustly imprisoned’ and his due process under the tribal system continues to be called into question. Despite the public perception that he has committed treason by working with the US, his 23-year sentence is on the pretext of having ties with a militant group, which his lawyer asserts are bogus.

Just prior to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to Pakistan, the Trump team – who have repeatedly called for Afridi to be let go – cut a further $300 million to Islamabad through the Coalition Support Fund citing Pakistan’s ‘lack of decisive actions in support of the South Asia strategy’. This comes following the US State Department’s announcement in January that it was suspending more than $250 million in security assistance to Pakistan.

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