National interest foremost in dealings with US: Sherry

Dunya News

We have not stepped back from any of our demands the ambassador said.

Ambassador Sherry Rehman has said that Pakistans participation in the forthcoming NATO summit in Chicago, to focus on Afghanistans future and security transition, will ensure that it is not in international isolation. Pakistan, she said, has always had a role in the region and the summit presented an opportunity to redefine it. This unconditional invitation to Pakistan is a very positive development. We dont want interference in Afghanistan, but want to support peaceful security transition, which can also bring stability in Pakistan, she said during an exclusive interview with Dunya News.We must remember what we faced in 1990s in terms of refugee crisis, Pakistan changed a lot because of that. Our attitude and actions should always be for Afghan internal and sovereign process, which is a democratic process of national building. We should support that and not play a role, in terms of supporting any particular group, she pointed out while recalling the tumultuous years after the soviet withdrawal in Afghanistan that also resulted in the US leaving Pakistan on its own. We were absent from the global stage for the last 4-5 months on the Afghan issue, so we should have accepted this invitation, she asserted.Pakistan, she recalled, had decided against attending Bonn Conference because it was not long after Salala incident. However, this NATO summit is happening at a time when our discussions with Afghanistan are ongoing too and core group involving Pakistan, Afghanistan and US just recently met in Islamabad. Therefore, its a continuation of that where we can play our constructive role for Afghanistan because it is mostly about them. If we are already involved at a smaller level, we ought to remain engaged at such higher forum too, she stressed.The Ambassador said that Pakistan would have been seen as playing a spoilers role, in case it decided to stay away from the NATO summit. We are improving relations with India, so these are very important strategic shifts. We have to adopt a good neighbour policy vis-a-vis Afghanistan too. Relationship between president Karzai and president Zardari is much improved as compared to the previous regime, so we must take these diplomatic and political initiative, she firmly said.The Ambassador strongly refuted the impression that Pakistan had deviated the position of demanding apology from the US on the Salala firing incident. We have not stepped back from any of our demands. Foreign Office has issued a very clear statement that we will continue to press for apology for the 24 martyred soldiers in every meeting and diplomatic engagement with US. We have neither compromised on it, neither have done anything to indicate that only the US is furthering its gains, she argued.She said that the US officials were talking about their national interest while Pakistan was focusing on its own interests. Every country watches its interest. Pakistan has never kept a superpower like the US on hold for four months, which should be given due consideration, she stated while referring to the extensive exercise in the parliament that reviewed the relationship with the United States in its entirety after tensions peaked after Salala tragedy.Sherry, though, insisted that despite waiting for the parliamentary review to complete, Pakistan had never been stubborn. However, the country would have been at a losing end in case it decided to skip a vital forum like the NATO summit, she believed while using the example of a fast running train to support her argument. If there is a train running (with every country on board) and Pakistan is not part of it, then who is the loser? of course, us, she said.When asked if she had any indications from her interactions with the US officials that they were ready to concede to Pakistani demands, she denied that there was any point scoring going on during negotiation. Its not a matter of conceding or not conceding. The result of negotiations and any final outcome has to be with transparency, she mentioned adding that the reports of Pakistan demanding immediate release of outstanding coalition support funds (CSF) before the impending budget did not have any basis.There is no such timeline for demand of CSF. It is not like our budget will not be made without this money. We have not linked it to budget and neither can you gain any leverage from such linkages during negotiations. We want to be seen as a positive, constructive, international force in the region. We have taken a big stand on our sovereignty, which is a very important position for our public that Pakistan values and protects its sovereignty, she reasoned.In the context of the situation in the region, we will have to take each step very carefully. We do look to take a moderate stance instead of extreme ones, but cant compromise on national interest, she made clear and believed that negotiations with the US were on the right track. Well want our interest in all negotiations and they will do the same. It takes time and patience is required, but we can hope that these developments and negotiations move forward on a positive note, she hoped.Sherry agreed that the NATO conference in Chicago, although, was not bilateral, but it did have symbolic value. Certainly there is symbolic value that Pakistan and US relationship, which we want to be forged on mutual self respect, should be like that, she opined. She also said that terrorism was an internal issue for Pakistan and if the world was coming forward to assist the country to combat it, all such help should be availed. You always need political and diplomatic support for it. I have always believed that we need to be globally responsible regional player, she pointed out.- Contributed by Awais Saleem, Dunya News correspondent in Washington, DC