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ISLAMABAD / WASHINGTON: The latest stalemate in tumultuous Pakistan-United States ties, caused by President Donald Trump’s recent TV interview and a subsequent tweet — which was responded to by Prime Minister Imran Khan in a separate tweet — has seemingly eased after the former sought Pakistan’s help for Afghan peace and Islamabad readily accepted it.

Prime Minister Khan disclosed the receipt of the US president’s letter during a meeting with a group of television anchors on Monday. He said Mr Trump had asked for persuading the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table. He reaffirmed the Pakistan government’s commitment to doing all possible for a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict.

The Foreign Office later said in a statement: “US President Donald Trump, in his letter addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, has stated that his most important regional priority was achieving a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war. In this regard, he has sought Pakistan’s support and facilitation.”

Mr Trump, moreover, suggested that Pakistan and the US should “explore opportunities to work together and renew partnership,” the FO added.

Trump writes to Imran suggesting Islamabad and Washington ‘explore opportunities to work together and renew partnership’

In Washington, a spokesperson for the US National Security Council (NSC) told Dawn that in his first letter to PM Khan, President Trump had sought “Pakistan’s full support” for the US-led peace process in Afghanistan and for his special envoy’s upcoming trip to the region.

The NSC is the US president’s principal forum for national security and foreign policy matters and is based in the White House.

The letter was received by Mr Khan on Monday morning as US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad embarked on another trip to the region. During the 19-day visit, Mr Khalilzad will visit Pakistan, besides travelling to Afghanistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Belgium, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar from Dec 2 to 20. He is due in Islamabad on Tuesday morning. His Pakistan leg of the last tour in November was cancelled at the last moment because of “scheduling issues” on Islamabad’s part.

The timing of Mr Trump’s letter suggests that it is meant to convey to Islamabad White House’s commitment to the effort being spearheaded by Mr Khalilzad.

Pakistan had over the past few months restarted cooperation with the US after it saw signals of shift in America’s policy on reconciliation with the Taliban.

In a major gesture to Washington in October, Pakistan had set free former Taliban deputy chief Mullah Baradar.

FO spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal had on that occasion said that Baradar was released “at the US request in order to move forward on the shared objective of pursuing a political settlement in Afghanistan”.

But things came to a stop after President Trump in a TV interview raked up allegations of global terror kingpin Osama bin Laden having lived in Pakistan with relative ease and asserted that he ended aid for the former ally (Pakistan) because it did not “do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us”.

Mr Trump apparently in his letter to Mr Khan budged on the issue. The FO said the US president “acknowledged that the war had cost both USA and Pakistan”.

It should be recalled that Prime Minister Khan had in his reaction to Mr Trump’s interview called for acknowledging Pakistani sacrifices in the war on terror. He had noted that Pakistan’s support for the US in the war against terrorism cost it 75,000 casualties and over $123 billion in financial losses; tribal areas were devastated because of terrorist attacks and millions of people were displaced due to counterterrorism operations that had to be carried out to reclaim the area from terrorists.

The FO said the US decision of seeking Pakistan’s help was a welcome one. Recalling Pakistan’s long-standing position on ending the Afghan conflict through a negotiated settlement instead of use of force, the statement said the Afghan peace and reconciliation process would be facilitated in good faith. “Peace and stability in Afghanistan remains a shared responsibility,” it underscored.

Meanwhile, a State Department statement on Mr Khalilzad’s trip said: “The United States remains committed to supporting the Afghan people’s desire for peace, and to facilitating a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban that ensures Afghanistan never serves as a platform for international terrorism again.”

In the letter, President Trump “recognises that Pakistan has the ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory,” the NSC spokesperson said.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2018