WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama on Thursday appreciated Pakistan’s on-going efforts to degrade and ultimately defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates, noting that it had disrupted terror plots against the US homeland as the two sides renewed their resolve to counter all forms of extremism and terrorism in the region.
During a bilateral meeting between a high-powered delegation led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Obama at the White House on Thursday, the two discussed a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, particularly terrorism in South Asia.
According to a joint statement of the meeting, Obama, while acknowledging the sacrifices rendered by Pakistani security forces in the region, noted how it had degraded the ability of militants to plan and execute terror attacks – especially against Americans.
Pakistan had launched a military operation in its militants infested tribal areas along the borders with Afghanistan in June last year, code-named Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
Nawaz thanked the US for its support in bolstering Pakistan’s counter-terrorism capacity. The prime minister said that under the National Action Plan (NAP) they were working to ensure that Pakistan’s territory is not used against any other country. But he pointed out that “this is an obligation on all countries in the region.”
Pakistan has accused neighbouring countries of sponsoring terrorism within its borders. It has already shared evidence of attacks in Pakistan being planned in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, Nawaz’s foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz had handed US Secretary of State John Kerry three dossiers containing evidence of Indian involvement in terrorist activities inside Pakistan.
Outlining actions under NAP, Nawaz said that they will ensure that Taliban, including Haqqani Network, are not able to operate from Pakistan. Further, Nawaz said that Pakistan would take effective action against United Nations-designated terror entities including the likes of Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates. They expressed satisfaction at joint efforts against groups like Da’esh, as Nawaz expressed Pakistan’s firm resolve to prevent the group from establishing a footprint in the country.
Obama commended Pakistan on facilitating and eventually hosting the first round of talks between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban. Committing to advancing an Afghans¬owned and led peace and reconciliation process between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, they jointly “called on Taliban leaders to enter into direct talks with Kabul and work toward a sustainable peace settlement.”
They recognised that a stable and peaceful Pakistan-Afghanistan border was important for the success of counterterrorism.
The low-ebb of ties between Pakistan and India was also discussed as Nawaz and Obama expressed concern over violence along the Line of Control. They emphasised the importance of a sustained and resilient dialogue process between the two nuclear-tipped neighbours aimed at resolving all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, peacefully.
The two also discussed regional nuclear stability, underscoring that all sides should continuously act with maximum restraint as they acknowledged the importance of regional balance and stability.
Prior to their meeting, reports in media were rife about a potential nuclear deal which would see relaxation in nuclear restrictions for Pakistan in exchange for limiting its plans for tactical nuclear weapons. But on Thursday they discussed strategic trade controls and to enhance engagement with multilateral export control regimes.
President Obama reiterated a commitment to strengthen bilateral ties and to expand cooperation through both the public and private sectors, into the future. Nawaz also sought greater market access for Pakistani companies on which the US president said that Pakistani companies were eligible to participate in US Department of Defense procurement opportunities related to Afghan operations. The two leaders also agreed to further multilateral engagement, and discussion of cyber-security issues as part of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue.
Obama condemned the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar last December.
Earlier in the day Nawaz Sharif met with US Vice President Joe Biden for a working breakfast and later met with US Senator John McCain. On Wednesday, he had met with a delegation of US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and a US Congressional caucus on Pakistan.