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Islamabad part of solution in Afghanistan: US

Updated September 20, 2018

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WASHINGTON: Pakistan has to be a part of a solution in Afghanistan, says a Pentagon report, summarising the US military chief’s recent visits to friendly nations, including Pakistan.

The report, released this week, says that the main purpose of Gen Joseph Dunford’s visit to these nations was to “maintaining and building alliances”.

Gen Dunford, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, also reached out to “prospective partners to encourage cooperation and interoperability.”

Pentagon report quotes America’s top military official as saying Pakistan can help bring Taliban to peace talks

The report says that the chairman visited Islamabad early this month because “Pakistan is key to the ‘South Asia Strategy’ that President Donald Trump espoused in August 2017. Pakistan has to be a part of a solution in Afghanistan.”

The report notes that Gen Dunford joined US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The report also includes a quote from Gen Dunford about the US team’s meeting with Gen Bajwa. “When we talked to Gen Bajwa on a military-to-military level, we listened to the prime minister very carefully [and] we listened to the secretary very carefully,” the US general said. “The objectives were very consistent between the secretary and prime minister. Gen Bajwa and I agreed that we will leverage the military-to-military relationship for the secretary and prime minister and, more importantly, for President Trump’s South Asia Strategy.”

The report, however, also highlights the need to implement the decisions taken at the US-Pakistan meetings. “Actions speak louder than words and the Pakistani leaders agreed to ‘reset’ their relationship with the United States,” it adds, backing it up with another quote from Gen Dunford.

“What we want to see: the Taliban at the peace table dealing with Afghans,” Gen Dunford said. “And we believe the Pakistanis play a unique role in bringing the Taliban to the peace process.”

Talking to journalists here earlier this week, Pakistan Navy Chief Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi also said that Islamabad’s relations with Pakistan were gradually improving and it was no longer an aid-based relationship.

“Our relationship with the US has turned the corner and is, now moving in the right direction,” he said. “It is not on the lowest ebb.”

He said that seeking US aid was not Pakistan’s primary consideration.

“We want good relations with or without security assistance. We can work without US assistance.”

The Pentagon report points out that from Islamabad, Gen Dunford flew to New Delhi to join US Defence Secretary James N. Mattis, and Secretary Pompeo for the 2+2 Talks with Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj.

In India, the US team discussed regional and global concerns, such as Afghanistan, North Korea and terrorism, with Indian leaders.

It also refers to a statement by Ms Sitharaman, saying that the military-to-military cooperation had been a “key driver” of the US-India relationship.

The report includes Secretary Pompeo’s quote, saying: “We have a responsibility to advance those shared values: rule of law; national sovereignty; good governance; the protection of fundamental freedoms, rights and liberties; free, fair and reciprocal trade relationships and peaceful resolutions of territorial and maritime disputes.”

From New Delhi, Secretary Mattis and Gen Dunford went to Kabul on an unannounced trip and met US, coalition and Afghan officials. The visit was a chance to hear directly from those most directly affected by strategies in the region.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2018