WASHINGTON: Pakistani Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry on Wednesday had heated exchanges with ex-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad over the allegations of terrorist safe havens in his country.
A Washington audience burst into laughter when Chaudhry claimed Taliban leader Mullah Omar was not in Pakistan, as Khalilzad challenged his assertion and said there was enough evidence to the contrary.
Other panelist — former Indian minister Manish Tewari and top American think-tank expert Ashley Tellis — also joined Khalilzad in alleging that terrorist safe havens continued to exist in Pakistan.
However, Chaudhry appeared to be in denial mode. “What sanctuaries you are talking about? If you want to live in the past, you cannot solve the present,” he said during the discussion on “Regional Perspectives on the US Strategy in Afghanistan.”
Speaking at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, the ambassador rejected Kabul’s criticism of Islamabad for its internal problem. “The Haqqani network and the Taliban are not our friends. They are not our proxies. What Quetta Shura you are talking about? What Peshawar Shura?”
To ths, Khalilzad Said: “We know the leadership of the Taliban (are in Pakistan), the Quetta Shura and now the Peshawar Shura, the Haqqani network that has been a difficulty.. The leaders are based in Pakistan.
“That (fact) cannot be disputed easily. Are they getting supplies, getting training, where does the logistic lines of this fight, how deep does this go into Pakistan,” Khalilzad added.
Spurning the ambassador’s denial, Khalilzad insisted the reality was different. “We have very firm evidence of his presence in Pakistan, where he went, lived, hospital,” he said, adding a long time there was the idea that Osama bin Laden never left Afghanistan.
“There is ample evidence that while the operation was going on, the Haqqani network was being evacuated to safer location,” the former US ambassador charged.
Tellis believed the Trump administration had a real possibility that if the US was not successful in Afghanistan, it could choose to reduce its commitment and eventually withdraw.
This would only make circumstances in Afghanistan worse and would have an adverse impact on the situation in Pakistan. “It is worthwhile for Pakistan to redouble its efforts in working with the US to compel the Taliban to come to the peace table,” he insisted.
Chaudhry, who appeared to be isolated, said Pakistan wanted a peaceful, stable, sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan. “Afghan soil should not be used against Pakistan. Other than that we want to facilitate reconciliation. We need political level contact…”