US, Pakistan to hold frank talks, says interior minister

Published October 15, 2017
Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal highlights economic and security gains of Pakistan at a forum titled ‘Pakistan’s Emerging Economy Future Prospects’ held at the Pakistan Embassy on Saturday.—APP
Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal highlights economic and security gains of Pakistan at a forum titled ‘Pakistan’s Emerging Economy Future Prospects’ held at the Pakistan Embassy on Saturday.—APP

WASHINGTON: Interior Min­i­ster Ahsan Iqbal has said that the United States and Pakistan will have a detailed and frank discussion on all relevant issues when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Islamabad later this month.

The minister’s remarks came hours after US President Donald Trump expressed his desire to build a much better relationship with Pakistan, also hinting that the two allies were already cooperating with each other on many fronts.

This was the second reconciliatory message for Pakistan from the US president in the last three days. In the recent past, Mr Trump has been very critical of Pakistan and in his Aug 21 speech, he also hinted at the possibility of imposing new sanctions on the country if it did not change the policies that Washington says encourage militancy in the region.

Trump says Pakistan’s cooperation is a sign it’s honouring America’s wishes for it to do more

But this changed on Thursday when working on a US tip Pakistan rescued an American woman, Caitlan Cole, and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, from the clutches of the militants.

“This is a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan,” said President Trump while announcing the rescue at a White House event. “The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honouring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region.”

On Friday evening, Mr Trump sent out another tweet, indicating that the US-Pakistan cooperation was deeper than one rescue operation. “Starting to develop a much better relationship with Pakistan and its leaders, I want to thank them for their cooperation on many fronts,” he said.

Mr Iqbal, when asked to comment on Mr Trump’s statement after a Friday night event at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, said the United States and Pakistan have had a strong relationship for the last 70 years and both desire to continue these close ties.

He acknowledged that US-Pakistan relations had strained considerably after Mr Trump announced his new South Asia strategy on Aug. 21, giving India a greater role in Afghanistan.

“Both sides are now taking steps to mend this relationship. Secretary Tillerson is scheduled to visit Islamabad soon. We will have frank and detailed discussions on all key issues and I hope that this visit will be successful,” Mr Iqbal said.

He repeated his earlier suggestion that the US should deal with Pakistan as an important sovereign state and “not through India’s or Afghanistan’s prism”.

The first effort to improve bilateral ties was taken last month, when Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi met US Vice President Mike Pence and both leaders agreed to continue the reconciliation process.

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif visited Washington and met Secretary Tillerson and this week the US sent a multi-departmental delegation to Islamabad for further talks.

In his address at the Embassy Forum, the minister highlighted the economic gains and the security successes of Pakistan, achieved in the last four years.

“There’s not been a single case of corruption in the last four years,” said Mr Iqbal. “We are working to end corruption.”

He said the current government’s prudent fiscal policies had led to a 5.3 per cent annual growth rate and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would further increase the growth rate by generating business opportunities for foreign investors.

Mr Iqbal said the country’s security situation had also improved considerably after successful military operations in the tribal areas as well as other parts of the country.

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2017

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