WASHINGTON: Pakistan and the United States held two rounds of talks in Washington on Tuesday and agreed to stay engaged for rebuilding a relationship both regard as important.
The first set of talks began at the White House where Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi met National Security Adviser John Bolton for 40 minutes before heading to the State Department for another meeting with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. The second meeting too lasted 40 minutes.
While the media expected a joint statement, both sides released separate statements, explaining how far this attempt to “reset” had gone. The cautious silence on both sides, however, indicated that the talks were not as successful as expected.
“During the meeting, Mr Qureshi and Mr Bolton discussed Pakistan-US relations and the regional situation in South Asia,” said a brief statement. These two major issues also dominated the talks between Mr Qureshi and Secretary Pompeo.
Diplomatic sources, however, interpreted “the regional situation” as the situation in Afghanistan, adding that much of the discussion focused on the US effort to ensure the continuity of the current setup in Kabul.
To ensure this continuity, the US has invited the Taliban to participate in this setup through the Afghan peace process and wants Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to do so.
The sources said that even the discussion on India-Pakistan relations was linked to the situation in Afghanistan, as Americans believe that there can be no peace in Afghanistan as long as India and Pakistan continue to fight for influence in that country.
According to these sources, China’s role in South Asia, particularly its growing influence in Pakistan, was one of the topics discussed at the two meetings.
Media reports had claimed that Islamabad and Washington would discuss a possible prisoner-exchange — Dr Shakil Afridi for Aafia Siddiqui -- but so far neither side has confirmed or denied these claims.
Pakistanis are believed to have assured American negotiators that they do want to play a positive role in Afghanistan and would do whatever they could to persuade the Taliban to join the Afghan reconciliation process.
But they want the US to address their concerns too, particularly about India’s growing influence in Afghanistan.
They also emphasised the need for the US to play a role in restarting India-Pakistan talks, pointing out that pressure on the eastern border could dilute Pakistan’s focus on the western border, where it has placed hundreds of thousands of troops for combating Taliban and other outfits.
They also explained why the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was important for Pakistan’s progress.
Mr Qureshi and Mr Pompeo first met in Islamabad early last month as the United States approached the new government to hear its views on the key issues that have strained decades-old ties between the two countries.
Mr Pompeo, asked at a recent briefing about the US decision to re-engage Pakistan, said Islamabad elected a new leader this July, and “(we) wanted to get out there at the beginning of his (Imran Khan’s) time in an effort to reset the relationship between the two countries.”
It was during the Islamabad visit that Mr Pompeo invited the Pakistani foreign minister to visit Washington for further talks.
Published in Dawn, October 3rd , 2018