WASHINGTON: The US and Pakistan would begin high-level talks in a few days in Islamabad, with Afghanistan joining them later for a key meeting of the trilateral core group on April 26, official sources told Dawn.
US special representative Marc Grossman, who leaves Washington on Monday, will lead the US delegation in the talks while Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani will head the Pakistani team. A deputy foreign minister will represent Afghanistan.
A day before the trilateral talks, Mr Grossman will hold bilateral meetings with senior Pakistani officials on the guidelines Pakistan’s parliament passed recently about the re-engagement with the US.
The US team will include representatives of the Defence, State and Treasury departments, besides Mr Grossman’s aides. The delegation’s composition shows that the Americans are willing to discuss all issues straining ties — from defence to finance.
But Pakistan’s reluctance to reopen Nato supply routes to Afghanistan will cast a dark shadow on the talks. The Americans expect Pakistan to reopen the routes as the first step towards normalisation of ties.
The Pakistani government seems eager to oblige but widespread anti-American sentiments in the country prevents it from doing so because general election is due soon, a diplomatic source said.
“But if the elections are causing Pakistan to delay the reopening, the same process is causing the Obama administration to seek an early solution,” the source added.
US presidential elections are scheduled in November and the Obama administration wants some improvement in the situation in Afghanistan before that.
Another issue that may have a negative impact on the talks is the Obama administration’s reluctance to accept some key recommendations of the Pakistani parliament, such as an apology over the Nov 26 border raid, which led to the closure of the Nato routes, and a promise to stop drone attacks in Fata.
According to sources, Pakistan’s ambassador in the US had succeeded in persuading the Americans to offer a public apology before a meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in London last month but Islamabad asked the Americans to wait for the parliamentary review to complete.
However, before the review could be completed, the burning of copies of the Holy Quran by American soldiers in Afghanistan caused President Obama to publicly apologise to his Afghan counterpart. Mr Obama decided not to tender yet another public apology as it could hurt him in the elections. Thus, it is not yet clear if the Obama administration will offer a public apology before the election.