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WASHINGTON: The US-Pakistan relationship appears to have survived yet another near-fatal blow as Washington reaffirmed that it had no desire to sever ties with Pakistan or launch military strikes inside its territory.

The assurance about maintaining the bilateral relationship came from Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who delivered this message to Afghan — not Pakistani — leaders during a visit to Kabul last week.

“In my discussions with the Afghan government, we focused on the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan (and) the need for continued bilateral discussions between them,” he said at a recent State Department news briefing in Washington.

“I also emphasised that the United States must continue to have its bilateral relationship with Pakistan, both on its own terms and with respect to the region, including Afghanistan.”

The visit followed a series of attacks in Kabul last week which killed almost 150 people and left the country terrorised. Mr Sullivan was there [in Kabul] to assure the Afghan government of continued US support in the war against terrorism.

During his two-day stay in the Afghan capital, Mr Sullivan met President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani as well as other government leaders.

“In all of his meetings, the deputy secretary focused his discussions on the peace process, elections and inclusivity, and advancing development efforts,” said a State Department statement issued after the visit.

“He also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to working with the government and the people of Afghanistan to bring peace, security, and sustained economic growth to Afghanistan and the region,” it added.

Mr Sullivan’s statement at the news briefing, however, makes it clear that Afghan leaders—who blame Pakistan for last week’s attacks— also raised the issue [Pakistan] with him.

When a reporter asked him if Pakistan came up during his discussion in Kabul, Mr Sullivan did not only confirm that it did but also talked about telling Afghan leaders that the US wanted to retain its relations with both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Last week, a senior US general also assured Islamabad that the US had no plans to conduct military operations inside Pakistan.

“We actually don’t contemplate military operations inside Pakistan,” US Joint Staff Director Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie said at a Pentagon news briefing.

At another news briefing, US Central Command Chief Gen Joseph Votel said that while “we have had our differences with Pakistan over the years on this, Pakistan remains absolutely critical to the solution of the problem in Afghanistan”.

Mr Sullivan in his statement reflected US desire to continue partnership with Pakistan and its interests in Afghanistan. “We have made clear to the Pakistani government our expectations for them to take action against terrorists that are in sanctuaries in Pakistan to reduce the pressure and the threat of violence in Afghanistan, and to contribute to a lasting and enduring peace in Afghanistan and the region,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2018