No confusion in war against terrorism, says British diplomat

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ISLAMABAD: Outgoing British High Commissioner Philip Barton said it was a positive development that there is a consensus in Pakistan over tackling all terror groups, instead of arguing over which ones to take on.

The Mr Barton is set to leave Pakistan next week as his tenure as high commissioner ends after two years. He was addressing an event at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), held in his honour on Wednesday.

He said Pakistan was born in a challenging neighbourhood, and that the country had difficult relationships with most of its neighbours.

“But I believe this is changing,” Mr Barton said, and referred to Iran’s emergence from international sanctions and its drive to improve its economy, saying it was good news for Pakistan.

He also said that relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan is moving back onto a positive trajectory.

“Just two months ago, we were not sure that President Ghani would attend the Heart of Asia Meeting here in Islamabad,” Mr Barton said, “We certainly did not know that a new quadrilateral process involving Pakistan and Afghanistan would have met twice by now to chart a path to peace.”

The said while the relationship has been under some stress over the last six months, there is now the prospect of starting the new chapter President Ghani and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif talked about when the former took office in late 2014.

“It is for India and Pakistan to decide on the kind of relationship they want,” Mr Barton said, “Nevertheless, I welcome the mature way in which both countries dealt with the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot.”

He also said that the arrival of Indian Prime Minister would join the Prime Minister of Pakistan at a family wedding in Lahore was an unexpected event for him.

“I know that British high commissioners are supposed to be ‘all knowing’ and ‘all seeing’, but this is not something that I saw coming,” he added.

The British High Commissioner also spoke over democracy in Pakistan and said that step-by-step this was becoming entrenched in the country.

“The 2013 elections were better than the 2008 elections with the overall outcome reflecting the will of the people,” he said adding, “I am confident that the 2018 elections will be better still, given the electoral reforms currently under consideration.”

He added that no electoral system is perfect and Pakistan needs a system that is robust enough for those who lose elections to accept the outcome, which is the essence of the democratic process.

He said 2014 was a difficult year for Pakistan. “But I believe democracy came out strengthened. Parliament stood behind the elected government and those seeking an unconstitutional change of government did not prevail,” he said.

Mr Barton spoke about the local government elections across the country, adding that these were the first local government elections since 2001. They represented another step forward in the country’s democratic development.

“But they also provided some important lessons for the conduct of future elections,” he said adding, “There is a window now to improve transparency, women’s registration and participation and voter education in advance of the 2018 elections.

Mr Barton’s successor, Thomas Drew, is expected to arrive in the country later this month.