WASHINGTON: A key US official said on Monday that the United States welcomed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement emphasising the importance of peace on both sides of Pakistan’s borders.

Alice Wells, who heads the Bureau for South and Central Asian affairs at the State Department, said the main objective of the Trump administration’s South Asia strategy was to restore peace and stability in Afghanistan with support from other regional states.

“We welcome the words of Prime Minister Imran Khan in which he discussed the importance of peace on both sides of Pakistan’s borders,” she said at a news briefing.

Ms Wells is expected to accompany US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo when he visits Islamabad in the first week of September for talks with the new Pakistani leadership. He is also likely to visit New Delhi and Kabul for consulting those governments on Washington’s efforts to resolve the Afghan conflict.

Ms Wells said that America’s South Asia strategy was “obviously pointed to the role India can and should play” in supporting the stabilisation of Afghanistan.

“We want to see Afghanistan stitched back into the region,” said the US diplomat while clarifying that this integration does not have to come at the expense of any other country in the region.

“Pakistan, obviously, has a critical role to play in stabilisation of Afghanistan. And we have encouraged Pakistan to take stronger steps to ensure that the Taliban either come to the negotiating table or are expelled back into Afghanistan rather than enjoy a safe haven outside of the country,” said Ms Wells while explaining the role the United States wants Pakistan to play.

She noted that over the last several months, Pakistan and Afghanistan had embarked on efforts to improve the bilateral relationship and Washington strongly supported negotiation of a solidarity document between them.

Without mentioning China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the US official expressed concerns over projects in countries where governments involved had not been able to sustain the repayment schedules, which “resulted in the loss of sovereignty over key infrastructures” that they have had to turn over to their lenders.

Ms Wells said that if China stopped pursuing the policy of mortgaging the future of such countries to “unrealistic and unsustainable loan terms, Washington and Beijing could work together on many issues.

“In South Asia, there are many areas where our interests overlap, peace and stabilisation of Afghanistan, both support improved Afghanis­tan-Pakistan relations,” she said. These over-lapping interests could be “basis for a good conversation to start from,” she added.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2018