Afghani ambassador equates Pakistan with terrorism at Aspen Security Forum | PostIndependent.com
Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

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Afghani ambassador equates Pakistan with terrorism at Aspen Security Forum

Hamdullah Nohib, the Afghanistan ambassador to the U.S., second from left, had harsh words for Pakistan Friday at the Aspen Security Forum. Also partipating in the panel discussion were James Cunningham, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, left, Robin Raphel, former assistant secretary of state for South Asia, second from right, and moderator Margaret Brennan, White House and senior foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News.

The Afghanistan ambassador to the U.S. had harsh words about Pakistan on Friday while speaking in Aspen, labeling the neighboring country a supporter of terrorism rather than a partner against it.

Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib said it is impossible to discuss U.S. policy in his country without taking a close look at Pakistan.

"Pakistan is a major threat, not just to us but to your security," Mohib said while participating in a panel discussion at the Aspen Security Forum. "Treating it as a partner in counter-terrorism is a mistake. I think terrorism and Pakistan are equated."

He said President Trump and all countries fighting terrorism would be making a mistake considering Pakistan a partner because of its willingness to harbor terrorists.

“I think terrorism and Pakistan are equated.”

— Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan ambassador to U.S.

"Pakistan is moving toward becoming a state that supports terrorism as an element of foreign policy, to a state that believes in terrorism," Mohib claimed.

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He alleged that a new cadre of officers in the Pakistani military believe in terrorism as an ideology. That will create increasingly severe problems as they rise through the ranks, he said.

"If we continue to give Pakistan a free pass, imagine the conflict at a time when the military is 1 million strong, has nuclear weapons, has sophisticated intelligence and believes in extremism at its core. So dealing with Pakistan's military is extremely important," Mohib said.

The world must work with the Pakistani civilian leaders to keep the military in check. Until that can be accomplished, he advised extreme caution.

"Anything given to the Pakistanis today, whether it is weapons or finances, will be used against the entire world order," Mohib said.

The ambassador's strong words came during the panel discussion on policy in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been engaged in war for 16 years — with no end in sight. Moderator Margaret Brennan, a senior foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News, announced at the start of the discussion that the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. canceled a scheduled appearance with the panel. No reason was given.

Mohib wasn't alone in his tough assessment of Pakistan. James Cunningham, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, noted the U.S. State Department recently stated in a world terrorism assessment that the Taliban and other terrorist groups "enjoy safe haven" in Pakistan. In the next paragraph, he said, the assessment labeled Pakistan an important partner in counter-terrorism efforts.

"The dilemma has plagued us for at least 10 years on how to deal with Pakistan's role," Cunningham said.

The country "occasionally" plays a positive role in helping the U.S. in various ways, and it has "suffered" while dealing with its own internal terrorism, he said. But Pakistan's help is more than offset by its role in harboring terrorism groups, he indicated. Cunningham said he was "very sorry" the Pakistani ambassador wasn't present in Aspen for the discussion.

"The underlying dilemma is, it is going to be almost impossible to get the Taliban to the negotiating table and bring the conflict to an end as long as [they] continue to be able to live and plan and operate from Pakistan," Cunningham said. "That is unfortunately the reality that's proven out over the last years.

"What we've tried to do is straddle the fence and try to convince the Pakistanis that what they're doing is against their own interests, which they have finally paid lip service to but they haven't actually done anything about it," Cunningham continued.

"We need to find a way to get them to do something about it," he said. "That's an important opportunity for this administration and it's a shame that it is taking them so long for them to get their act together."

Robin Raphel, former assistant secretary of state for South Asia, said Pakistan is one of numerous countries that have a "proxy" in Afghanistan. It's likely to keep that proxy as long as uncertainty exists on the outcome of the conflict, she said.

The discussion about Pakistan's role overshadowed the primary question of the panel discussion — what will be President Trump's Afghanistan policy?

Raphel said the goals have been consistent throughout three American administrations — to establish an independent, prosperous Afghanistan free of terrorists.

"We've lost our way a little bit on how to get there," she said.

Cunningham explained that U.S. policy has undergone drastic alterations starting with President George W. Bush. First, there was aggressive military action against terrorist groups, including Taliban, Isis and al-Qaida. Next was a "benign neglect" stage, he said. That resulted in a Taliban surge followed by a U.S. reaction.

President Obama pulled most U.S. forces out of Afghanistan before leaving office. A handful of remaining U.S. troops provides aid and advice to Afghanistan military forces, especially in areas where they are inexperienced.

Mohib said the U.S. has lacked a cohesive policy through the last three administrations.

"It wasn't clearly laid out what American wants from Afghanistan," he said.

Brennan noted one option being considered by the Trump administration is to enlist contractors to wage war with terrorist groups in Afghanistan.

Mohib said there's no substitute for aligning U.S. military troops alongside Afghani troops. He doesn't want the Trump administration to substitute U.S. military advisors with contractor mercenaries.

"Contractors don't win wars," Mohib said.

scondon@aspentimes.com