WASHINGTON: The Uni­ted States has assured Pakistan that it does not want to sever bilateral ties with this important ally while Islamabad extended its “wholehearted support” to the US-backed Afghan offer of peace talks with the Taliban.

The two statements supplement renewed efforts to improve relations between the US and Pakistan which were once close allies in the war against terror.

The move for improving ties began last week when Washington sent a senior Trump aide to Islamabad for talks with Pakistani leaders. And on Thursday, official sources in Washington told Dawn that Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua will visit Washington next week for a series of meetings with senior American officials.

In an interview to VOA radio in Kabul on Friday, US State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells said the US was not thinking of cutting ties with Pakistan. She also assured Islamabad that the US considered Pakistan essential to resolving the Afghan imbroglio.

Asked if Washington could sever its relations with Pakistan, Ms Well said: “On the contrary, we are backing Pakistan against all militant groups.”

In Islamabad, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told reporters that Pakistan “wholeheartedly supports Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s latest offer of peace talks to the Taliban because “it’s a good move and a healthy move towards restoring peace in Afghanistan”.

Earlier, a top US general also dispelled the impression that the United States and Pakistan were on a collision course. “We have preserved the valuable military-to-military relationship with Pakistan” while working to increase transparency and communication with military leaders, Gen Joseph Votel, head of the US Central Command told a congressional panel in Washington this week.

In Washington, diplomatic observers are describing Foreign Secretary Janjua’s March 6-8 visit to Washington as a positive development, noting that it follows a surprise trip to Islamabad last week by a senior Trump official, Lisa Curtis, who spoke of the need to build a new relationship with Pakistan after her talks with senior Pakistani officials.

Official sources told Dawn that Secretary Janjua is also slated to visit Nepal next week with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi but may have to skip that trip for important bilateral talks in Washington, which may include another meeting with Ms Curtis, the US National Security Council’s senior director for South and Central Asia.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2018

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