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Khalilzad’s visit

Updated December 06, 2018

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THE focus rightly should be on ending the war, not the petulant tweets of the US commander-in-chief or the wrong-headed policies that have turned Afghanistan into a country of perpetual war.

After the gratuitous and self-defeating remarks against Pakistan by President Donald Trump, his administration appears to have immediately realised the error in his approach and likely convinced him to sign a letter drafted by more experienced hands in the administration.

Now Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, has visited Pakistan and likely discussed further steps to nudge forward an incipient peace process.

While Pakistan-US meetings are often followed by boilerplate official statements, it is in the days and weeks after that the results of the meetings are usually known.

A previous visit by Mr Khalilzad to Pakistan was followed by the release of Mullah Baradar, a former senior and well-respected leader of the Afghan Taliban, who had been in Pakistani custody since 2010.

For Pakistan, the challenge remains the same: furthering the prospects of a political settlement in Afghanistan with the Taliban, while seeking the Afghan government’s cooperation to help end anti-Pakistan militant sanctuaries across the border.

And when necessary, the leadership here must continue to respond cautiously and moderately, if baited deliberately or inadvertently by the US president.

Obnoxious as Mr Trump’s outbursts against Pakistan have been, it appears that he is still seeking to pull the US out of the war in Afghanistan — which is where the focus should be.

Indeed, Mr Trump may be the first of three presidents who have presided over the US-led war in Afghanistan with a realistic opportunity to end the war.

The political dynamics in the US and the direction of the war in Afghanistan could help create the circumstances to end a conflict that has brought untold misery to the Afghan people.

It is unlikely that a meaningful reset in ties between Pakistan and the US is possible anytime soon, but it is welcome that the statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office after a meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Mr Khalilzad specifically mentioned increasing bilateral engagement in areas such as trade, investment, education, health and social-sector development.

Pakistan’s ties with America this century effectively have been about the war in Afghanistan and US security concerns that the superpower has wanted Pakistan to address.

There was a brief spell in which other aspects of the bilateral relationship were given precedence, but the Kerry-Lugar aid and assistance to the civilian side of the state were undermined by many events.

In setting the foreign-policy direction of his government, Mr Khan should pay heed to countries beyond the few he has emphasised relations with so far.

The US and the EU are vital trading partners and Pakistan needs good relations with many power centres.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2018

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