"Pak's Taliban link complicating ties with US"
by John Johnston
The Times of India
ATHENS, Georgia: A top Pakistani diplomat has acknowledged that his country's close ties with the ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan have complicated Islamabad's relations with the United States.
Zamir Akram, minister and deputy chief of mission at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C., said, "The Taliban are now a hurdle in Pakistan's relationship with the US"
"Furthermore, the situation in Afghanistan prevents Pakistan from enjoying an important economic relationship with Central Asia," said Akram, who was brought back to Washington by Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi to take charge of the embassy's political wing and try to resurrect Islamabad's relations with Washington, which is today a far cry from the halcyon days in the 1980s when Pakistan was considered a strategic ally of the U.S.
Akram, who was here as a participant in the conference on "Globalization and Change in South Asia," under the aegis of the University of Georgia, said, "When the Afghans won the conflict (following the Soviet withdrawal), America simply withdrew." But Pakistan, he argued, in defense of the inevitability of its relationship with the Taliban, "obviously can't just move thousands of miles away like the Americans. Afghanistan is our neighbor, and we share a long border and ethnic and cultural ties."
And, he claimed, "despite Pakistan's best efforts to facilitate a peaceful transition after the Soviet defeat, political instability led to a shift in power and the emergence of the Taliban."
He asserted -- apparently referring to the Taliban's providing a safe haven to the likes of (Saudi renegade) Osama bin Laden, considered the number one international terrorist by Washington -- "We do not accept the harboring of international fugitives, drug trafficking, gun running, and the smuggling of goods from Afghanistan."
Akram said the "so-called threat" of Islamic resurgence "has been used by a variety of governments to exercise influence in the region's affairs."
He said, "To Pakistan, a positive relationship with Central Asia may yield several positive outcomes such as oil and gas pipelines which could help the serious energy shortages of South Asia. Also, the service sector of Pakistan such as banking, would benefit from new markets in Central Asia." (IANS)
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