BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Pakistan’s arrest of an Afghan Taliban commander was not done under pressure from its U.S. ally and shows the sincerity of its fight against terrorism, the foreign minister said on Thursday.
“We have done it because it is in our interests to do so,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told Reuters on the sidelines of a security conference in Belgium.
“If you think that Pakistan is deploying over 100,000 troops on the western border under pressure, if you think we are conducting military operations in Pakistan under pressure, that’s the wrong impression,” he said at the EastWest Institute.
Despite its denials, Pakistan has long turned a blind eye to Afghan Taliban members on its soil as leverage over Afghanistan where it has curried favor with successive governments as a strategic counterbalance to regional rival India.
“We do not want to see the Talibanisation of Pakistan,” he said. “This is service in a common cause.”
His comments were the first by a senior Pakistani official about the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, beyond terse statements confirming the event.
Baradar, the most senior Taliban commander ever arrested in Pakistan, was picked up in the southern city of Karachi this month in a raid by Pakistani and U.S. agents.
He was captured as U.S. forces spearheaded one of NATO’s biggest offensives against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Qureshi dismissed a suggestion that the detention showed it had more clout and contacts with militant groups operating on Pakistani soil than it publicly maintains.
“It (the arrest) is a reflection of Pakistan’s seriousness in dealing with terrorism and terrorists,” Qureshi said.
“The world should have been appreciative that a person known to be involved in activities in Afghanistan where there are soldiers from NATO and ISAF was arrested. This is positive.”
The United States and its Western allies have trusted Pakistani intelligence to help combat al Qaeda, but there have long been suspicions that it has taken a permissive line over the Afghan Taliban, allowing the militants freedom to attack Afghanistan over the border.
The United States has said the Taliban leadership council has been operating in Pakistan for years.
Qureshi dismissed the notion that Baradar’s arrest showed that Pakistan could, if it chose, move more forcefully against Pakistani militant groups that see Indian as their main enemy.
He also denied that it was a ploy to ease U.S. pressure on Islamabad for increased help in stabilizing Afghanistan.
Some analysts said the Pakistani security establishment realized it must demonstrate cooperation with the United States to stake its claim to a role in any Afghan peace process.
“Can’t the skeptics see the price we have paid for terrorism? The lives lost? The huge economic cost?,” he said. “You can always say the glass is half empty or half full but we feel public opinion has moved against extremism convincingly.”
“We have lost more than anyone else in this fight.”
Editing by Louise Ireland