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Freedom of expression: PTI’s long march not destabilising, says US envoy

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“It seems to me that the march is not something that anyone should fear. It is not a destabilising event. In a stable democracy, it is appropriate for there to be all kinds of expression of views,” said Ambassador Beth Jones, the US deputy special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, she, however, added that the PTI long march should not be violent and it should not aim to unsettle the government. “To express views, yes. But anything more than that is not appropriate,” said Jones, who on Wednesday wrapped up a five-day trip to Islamabad, where she met with Pakistani officials.

This was the first time a senior US official publicly commented on the brewing tensions between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government and the opposition party of cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan.

The PTI has planned to stage a massive gathering on Independence Day against alleged rigging in last year’s elections. In an attempt to thwart its plans, the government intends to hold the annual Independence Day celebrations on the same venue in a move that may lead to political instability.

HunzaNews, July 17th, 2014.

The US envoy said it was important for Pakistan to have a “vibrant functioning democracy in which Pakistani citizens have their say in a peaceful and constructive way”.

Waziristan operation

Ambassador Jones said the United States was fully supporting Pakistan to go after every terrorist group in its ongoing operation in North Waziristan Agency. “We have made it clear that we completely support Pakistani intentions to go after terrorist groups of every nationality, including if it is a Pakistani terrorist group, Uzbek terrorist group, Chinese terrorist group, Afghan terrorist group… whatever it is, it has no place on Pakistani territory,” she said.

She added that the Pakistani leadership has given assurances that the operation would not spare any terrorist.

Asked whether the US was convinced that Pakistan was also targeting the Haqqani Network, she said: “I think it is still early days. I cannot tell you one way or the other what’s happened, I don’t know, we are not

there.” However, she insisted it was important that there should be no possibility of militant outfits’ regrouping on the Pakistani soil after the operation.

Answering a question, Ambassador Jones said the Afghanistan government as well as the US-led international forces had the intention not to allow Afghan soil to be used by any terrorist group either. “One of the things the Afghan side and Pakistan side have been working on and we have been supporting is to establish good border control and cross-border communications so that if this group or that group tries to take sanctuary elsewhere in either territory that can be communicated and followed up,” she added.

Support for Afghan peace deal

About the possibility of a peace deal following the formation of a new government in Kabul, Jones said it was for the new Afghan administration how to reach out to the Taliban for reconciliation.

“We made it clear that eventually some kind of reconciliation process was appropriated but it should be Afghan-to-Afghan. The US would be supportive of that process but would not be part of it,” she emphasised.

She also acknowledged the role of Pakistan in peace and stability in Afghanistan but stressed the need for letting Afghans decide on the peace talks with the Taliban.

Published in The Express Tribune

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