ISLAMABAD - Pakistan on Saturday said the imprisonment of Dr Shakil Afridi was an “internal matter” and he would be dealt with in accordance with the country’s law, while repeating its opposition to drone attacks in the tribal areas.
United States’ Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Marc Grossman, who reached Islamabad on Friday, held important meetings on Saturday with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and held formal talks with Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani at the Foreign Office.
“During the course of these negotiations on Saturday, Ambassador Grossman raised the issue of Dr Shakil Afridi and appealed for his release. However, he (Grossman) was told that it was Pakistan’s internal matter and Dr Afridi’s issue would be dealt with in accordance with the law of land,” a diplomatic source said, seeking anonymity.
Dr Afridi was arrested soon after the killing of bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in a covert raid by Special US Forces in Abbottabad and he was blamed for arranging a fake vaccination campaign of Hepatitis-B to assist the CIA in tracking the former al Qaeda chief.
A US embassy statement issued at the end of Grossman’s two-day visit to Islamabad also mentioned briefly that Dr Afridi’s issue was taken up by the special US representative with Pakistani officials, but it did not say anything beyond that and there was no mention of Pakistan’s response. “Ambassador Grossman raised the case of Dr Shakil Afridi,” it said.
According to the embassy’s statement, Grossman also discussed the issue of the anti-Islam movie with Pakistani authorities.
“Ambassador Grossman also addressed the video circulating on the internet that has led to protests in a number of countries. Ambassador Grossman stated very clearly, as Secretary Clinton did, that the United States government had absolutely nothing to do with the video,” the statement said. Grossman said, “We absolutely reject its content and message.”
“In difficult times like these, the United States relies on its partnership with the government and people of Pakistan to ensure that divisive actions by individuals do not harm the safety of Pakistanis and Americans alike,” he said.
At the Foreign Office, Grossman and Foreign Secretary Jilani held detailed talks on the revival of stalled bilateral strategic dialogue that was suspended by the US last year owing to strained bilateral ties. “Discussing the Afghan reconciliation process, the two sides agreed to work on the mechanism of providing safe passage to Taliban leaders willing to participate in the peace dialogue,” a Pakistani diplomat said while requesting anonymity.
Briefing about the meeting between Zardari and Grossman, president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said Pak-US bilateral situation, fight against militancy, regional situation, drug trafficking and drone attacks were discussed during the meeting. The president said it was important for the two countries to work for greater engagement in all fields and to revive mutual confidence to move forward in pursuit of mutual interests and in the interest for peace and stability.
The president expressed the hope that the foreign minister’s forthcoming visit to Washington would help jumpstart the bilateral strategic dialogue.
On Afghanistan, the president said the peace and stability of Pakistan depended on peace and stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan would continue to assist the international community in search for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.
“We share common objective to defeat al Qaeda and terrorism and it could best be achieved through coordinated actions across the border,” the president said.
On terrorism, the president said Pakistan had been extending full support to the international fight against terrorism and would continue to do so in the future as well.
The president also reiterated his call for an end to the drone attacks, calling them counterproductive in the fight against militancy. “We need to discuss alternatives to drone attacks,” he said.
Zardari said the goal of establishing a long-term, sustained and durable Pak-US equation would remain elusive until the issue of trust deficit was addressed in an effective manner. He also expressed grave concern and condemned the anti-Islam film produced in the US that has sparked protest demonstrations in a number of countries.
He said rationality and tolerance was fast eroding and stressed the need for collective action to stop inflaming religious sentiments of any community or people of any faith. In his meeting with Ambassador Grossman, Prime Minister Ashraf said Pakistan had suffered the most, both in men and material, “but this cannot weaken our resolve to fight terrorism and extremism”. “We have no other option but to fight it out” so that we have peace and tranquilly in the region, he said.
The PM said, “Being a political government, we are sensitive to public opinion. We have succeeded in mobilizing the people and making them realize that terrorism is a threat to our country.”
He said Pakistan was facing energy crises and the US could help it in overcoming it.
The prime minister said there had been a “sea change” in relations with Afghanistan.
Ashraf said, “We need a peaceful and stable Afghanistan in our neighborhood. We cannot leave our children at the mercy of terrorists.”
Ambassador Grossman agreed with the prime minister that it was of fundamental importance to build a relationship based on mutual respect and interest.
He said that both the countries shared common objective to fight terrorism. Referring to energy crises in Pakistan, Ambassador Grossman said the US had made a promise of $200 million for the construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam and was ready to participate in the project.
Ambassador Grossman said future relations between Pakistan and United States should be based on market access and trade.