WASHINGTON: In the latest round of high-level talks between the United States and Pakistan, both sides stressed the need for restarting the process for reconciliation in Afghanistan, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua told Dawn on Friday.

Pakistan’s top diplomat, who completed her two-day visit to Washington on Friday, held two high-level meetings on Thursday afternoon at the White House and the State Department.

“The meetings went very well. There’s a sense of positivity that they want to strengthen their relationship with Pakistan,” said Ms Janjua when asked to describe the talks.

“There was also a great deal of focus on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. And both sides welcomed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s recent peace offer to the Taliban,” said Ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary, who attended both the meetings.

“We conveyed our concerns. They reiterated their concerns. The message was, both sides want a positive engagement,” Ms Janjua added.

Officials hold meetings at the White House and State Department

“We have to see how we move forward. We believe a regular consultative process needs to be re-established, so that we can hold talks under a structured process,” the foreign secretary said, noting that visits to Islamabad and Washington were useful but were not an alternative for the dialogue process.

The last meeting of the US-Pakistan strategic ministerial process was held in Washington in February 2016.

At the White House, US Deputy National Security Adviser Nadia Schadlow led the US team, which included Gen Joseph L. Votel, who heads the US Central Command, and Lisa Curtis, Senior Director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council.

At the State Department, Deputy Secretary John J. Sullivan led the US team, which included acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells and other senior officials.

Gen Votel’s inclusion in the White House team was a pleasant surprise for the Pakistani delegation because in his recent statements the general has strongly advocated maintaining a strong relationship with Pakistan.

“They do realise Pakistan’s importance, repeatedly said it, and stressed it yesterday too,” said Ms Janjua when asked if Gen Votel was the only US official who considered Pakistan an important ally.

The head of the Pakistani delegation at the talks pointed out that she had come to Washington on a “reach-out” visit, but when US officials learned about it they arranged the high-level meetings, reflecting the fact that the United States continued to value the important relationship.

“We told them that this is a long-term relationship, which needs a structured dialogue process,” she said.

Ms Janjua also corrected the perception that she had come to Washington under US pressure. “The perception that Pakistan can be forced into doing something, we want to disagree with that,” she said.

She said the Pakistani officials told their US counterparts that Islamabad had welcomed President Ghani’s reconciliation plan and was willing to facilitate and support it. “But there are many actors in Afghanistan and all of them should be taken into consideration. We can only play a facilitative role,” she added.

Ms Janjua said they also discussed a US move last month to put Pakistan on a list of countries that allowed terrorists to raise funds. “We said our actions against such fundraising should have been taken into account.”

The Americans did not offer a detailed explanation of last month’s meeting of the Financial Action Task Force in Paris where the decision to put Pakistan on the list was taken, but “we told them we have been and will continue to work on this process,” Ms Janjua said.

Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2018

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