By Anwar Iqbal
Sunday, 05 Apr, 2009
WASHINGTON: Pakistan and Afghanistan can help the United States in approaching those Taliban activists who may have moderate views and are willing to lay down their arms, says US National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones.
In a rare, exclusive interview to Dawn, Gen. Jones also stressed the need for a greater cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the fight against terrorists and said that President Barack Obama’s new strategy offers new hopes for peace and security in the South Asian region.
‘Surely the Pakistani people and Afghan people know more than we do,’ said Gen. Jones when asked how the US would approach the moderates among the Taliban that President Obama says could be included in the peace process.
‘And they can certainly help us in identifying those who are moderate in their views and wish to be participating in the political process,’ said the US national security adviser when asked whether Washington would directly approach the moderate Taliban or would include Pakistan and Afghanistan in this effort.
Explaining who he believed were the moderates, Gen. Jones said those who were willing to participate in the political process ‘without violence and without terror and without causing breaches in the security of either country.
‘And so I think that as we work towards identifying those people who wish to enter into a peaceful dialogue, political dialogue, there’s certainly room on the table for them.’
Asked what’s new in President Obama’s new strategy for the people of Pakistan, especially when drone attacks have continued unabated, Gen. Jones said: ‘What’s new is a regional focus. There has been a tendency in the past to deal with Pakistan and Afghanistan as separate issues. By appointing Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as a regional representative, the US is signaling a more comprehensive strategy.’
The US official pointed out that trouble in the border areas were of concern to both countries and should be dealt with accordingly.
In the new strategy, he said, President Obama also has indicated that the US would like to be helpful to its Pakistani friends and wanted to do whatever it could to be supportive of the government’s efforts.
The new strategy, he said, focuses on the real threat, al-Qaeda. ‘Al-Qaeda, whether it is in the border regions, in Pakistan or in Afghanistan, is the real enemy here. It is an enemy to the Pakistani people, it is an enemy to the Afghan people and to people here in the US and people all over the world.’
Gen. Jones said that when President Obama announced a direct aid package of $1.5 billion a year for five years, this was meant to reassure the Pakistani people that the US was committed to bringing peace and security to their country.
‘We are not just talking about the military force. We are talking about a package of collaborative subjects that will help us all get through this difficult period and hopefully get us back to a period when people of the region can live in peace and security and lead a much more normal lives,’ he said.
Asked to comment on recent statements by several US officials that the ISI or certain elements in the agency were cooperating with the Taliban, Gen. Jones said: ‘There’s a general view that there are at least some questions that have to be resolved … and if that’s the case, then we need to come to resolution with it.’
Gen. Jones said that senior US officials discussed this matter with the Pakistan army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, when he visited Washington recently.
‘Admiral Mullen spoke with him at length, I did as well and others. I think it’s in Pakistan’s interest to be very clear on the issue. So if there is room for improvement, we should together work for that improvement, so that we can have common goals and common pursuits,’ Gen. Jones said.
Asked if the drone attacks on targets inside Pakistan’s tribal region would continue, the US official said: ‘Well, I think the attacks have done a couple of things. One is, they have been targeted very specifically against al-Qaeda. Two is, they produce very low collateral damage and they are having an effect.
‘Whether they continue or not will be up to the Pakistani government and our government working side by side in a collaborative way.’
Asked what good the new strategy will bring for the people of Pakistan, Gen. Jones said: ‘I think, what good it will bring would be to stabilize the violence, remove the violence; remove the threat of living under the umbrella of terror and giving hope to their children that they will have a better life.’
The US approach, he said, was not simply the use of military force. It had a multi-pronged approach for stabilizing the region, which included economic incentives and the rule of law.
The US, he said, also wanted to work with the people who were willing to work for the cause of peace and security.
‘We can do this together. It does not have to be the Pakistani people by themselves. It does not have to be the Afghans by themselves. We have numerous countries, numerous international organizations that are all trying to do just that.’
The United States, he said, also recognized that ‘we have to build the trust and the confidence that needs to be there.’
In the new strategy, ‘President Obama has signaled the hand of friendship, the hand of trust and the hand of mutual concerns about forces that would destabilize and terrorize the region. We simply have to make the world a safer place by getting rid of them.’