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Pompeo to hold talks with Imran next month

Updated August 20, 2018

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WASHINGTON: US Sec­retary of State Michael Pompeo is likely to visit Islamabad in the first week of September for consultations with Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team on issues of mutual interests, diplomatic and official sources told Dawn.

Mr Pompeo, who is expected in Islamabad on Sept 5, will likely be the first foreign dignitary to meet the newly elected prime minister, who took the oath of his office on Saturday.

During his talks with the Pakistani officials, Secre­tary Pompeo may focus on two major issues: efforts to revive once close ties between the two states and Pakistan’s support for a US-led move to jump-start the Afghan peace process, the sources said.

Pakistan is likely to seek the US support for its bid to obtain an expected $12 billion financial package from the International Monetary Fund. Islamabad also hopes that an improvement in relations will lead to the resumption of US security assistance to the country and the restoration training facilities for their military.

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Alice Wells, who heads the Bureau for South and Central Asian Affairs at the State Department, may also accompany Mr Pompeo, according to the sources.

Mr Pompeo and his delegation may also visit India and Afghanistan during this trip, which is part of the Trump administration’s efforts to conclude a peace agreement in Afghanistan before the mid-term congressional elections in the United States scheduled for November.

Earlier this week, US officials urged Pakistan to help end the Afghan war, adding that recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan had not discouraged them from negotiating peace with some Taliban factions. Ms Wells reminded Pakistan that now was the time to peacefully end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan and encouraged Islamabad to play a leading role in this process.

Apparently, Washington believes that Pakistan still has enough influence over the Afghan Taliban to persuade them to join the peace process, and wants Islamabad to help establish a political set-up in Kabul that would allow a peaceful withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

On Monday last week, Secretary Pompeo telephoned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and sought his support for arranging another ceasefire in Afghanistan.

The first ceasefire on Eidul Fitr led to the first face-to-face talks between the US and Taliban officials in Doha last month. Both sides are now trying to hold the second round also in Doha in September.

In recent statements, the US officials have also expressed the desire to restore their once close ties with Pakistan.

On Saturday, the US State Department said that it recognised and welcomed the new Pakistani prime minister, dispelling the impression that Washington was not happy with Imran Khan’s election.

In an earlier statement, a senior US official had expressed the hope that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government would work with the US for translating tough issues into mutual achievements.

In her speech at the Pakistan Embassy earlier this week, Ms Wells not only welcomed Mr Khan’s election but also expressed the desire to work with his government for resolving difficult issues. “A negotiated political settlement to the 17-year-long conflict in Afghanistan is a critical shared goal, and an area where we all would hope to see progress in the coming months,” she said.

In a similar message on Tuesday, Secretary Pompeo also stressed this point and expressed the desire to work with Pakistan to “advance (the) shared goals of security, stability, and prosperity in South Asia”.

However, on July 27, the State Department had expressed “concerns about flaws in the pre-voting electoral process”, noting that “these included constraints placed on freedoms of expression and association” during the campaign period. The department pointed out that such practices were “at odds with Pakistani authorities’ stated goal of a fully fair and transparent election”.

Relations between Pakistan and the US nosedived in January when President Donald Trump accused Islamabad of providing “safe haven” to the terrorists who kill American soldiers in Afghanistan while taking billions of dollars in aid from Washington.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2018