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WASHINGTON: In a meeting between US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Ambassador Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, Pakistan has reiterated its commitment to playing a part in the Afghan peace and reconciliation process.

In his meeting with the US defence chief at the Pentagon on Monday, Ambassador Siddiqui also briefed Mr Mattis on Pakistan’s efforts to enhance its cooperation with Afghanistan. “We agreed on the need to work together for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Ambassador Siddiqui told Dawn after the meeting. “I reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to play its part in this peace and reconciliation process.”

This was the new Pakistani envoy’s first formal meeting with the US defence chief and Pakistan’s Defence Attaché Kamal Anwar Chaudhry also accompanied him.

Ambassador Siddiqui says US defence secretary has genuine interest in working with Islamabad

Mr Siddiqui, who earlier served as a special assistant on economic and business affairs to former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, was named ambassador in March this year. He presented his credentials to US President Donald Trump in June.

The Pakistani ambassador said that he also briefed Secretary Mattis on Islamabad’s efforts to enhance its cooperation with Kabul, including through the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS).

“Secretary Mattis received me very warmly. We discussed the Pakistan-US relationship and other regional issues of common interest,” he said.

The meeting with Mattis comes days after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani contacted Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan to congratulate him on his party’s victory in the election. A statement issued after the meeting said that the two leaders “agreed to overcome the past and to lay a new foundation for a prosperous political, social and economic future of both countries”.

Ambassador Siddiqui, who also discussed the Afghan issue with the US defence chief, noted that Secretary Mattis had “an enormous amount of experience” in the South Asian region and a genuine interest in working with Pakistan. “He wished the incoming Pakistani government well,” he added.

Earlier this month, Mr Siddiqui said that both Washington and Islamabad were aware of the issues surrounding bilateral ties. Speaking to journalists in Dallas, the Pakistani envoy said the two countries were working towards the restoration of their bilateral relationship.

In a recent interview to Bloomberg TV, Mr Siddiqui said Pakistan was working on the second portion of a fence at the Afghan border to prevent cross-border movement of militants. The fence, he said, was a clear sign of Islamabad’s interest in ending the Afghan conflict and will be equally beneficial for both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Until we complete this fence, it’s unreasonable to say we aren’t doing anything,” said Mr Siddiqui while responding to the US charge that Islamabad was not doing enough to prevent cross-border attacks.

The Mattis-Siddiqui meeting also comes amidst renewed US efforts to jump-start peace talks with Afghan Taliban. Last week, a senior US envoy, Alice Wells, met Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, and urged them to hold direct talks with the government in Kabul.

Encouraged by the first ceasefire on Eidul Fitr, the US and Afghan governments are now working on a second ceasefire during Eidul Azha next month, hoping that it would help their efforts to jump start the Afghan peace process.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2018