Civil, mly officials to highlight efforts for boosting Pak-US ties

Updated July 19, 2019

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The foreign minister speaks to the media on Friday while the ISPR DG follows with a separate briefing on Saturday, says a Pakistan Embassy press release. — Photos courtesy ISPR, PID
The foreign minister speaks to the media on Friday while the ISPR DG follows with a separate briefing on Saturday, says a Pakistan Embassy press release. — Photos courtesy ISPR, PID

WASHINGTON: Two key civilian and military leaders — Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Director General of the ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor — will underline the efforts that both Pakistan and the United States are making to rebuild their once close relationship.

The foreign minister speaks to the media on Friday while the ISPR DG follows with a separate briefing on Saturday, says a Pakistan Embassy press release.

The embassy did not explain what issues the two key officials would highlight in their briefings but diplomatic sources say that while Mr Qureshi will focus on economic, political and diplomatic issues, Gen Ghafoor is likely to focus on security and defence matters.

At his nomination hearing last week, the future chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Milley also stressed the need to maintain strong military-to-military ties with Pakistan, based on the shared interests of the two countries.

The general, who currently heads the US Army, noted that although the Trump administration had “suspended security assistance and paused major defence dialogues, we need to maintain strong military-to-military ties based on our shared interests”.

At a Wednesday night’s discussion in Washington, a senior analyst of South Asian affairs, Marvin Weinbaum, said that the US defence establishment had opposed suspending military assistance to Pakistan and would like to see those ties restored. The Pentagon seems particularly keen on re-establishing training and education facilities for Pakistani military officials.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump hailed the arrest of Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, calling him the “so-called mastermind” of the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Hafiz Saeed — who has a $10 million US bounty on his head — was taken into custody in a terror financing case and sent to prison on judicial remand.

President Trump’s tweet comes days before his scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on July 22 for which both sides are trying to create a positive environment for the talks.

Earlier this month, the United States also declared the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group. The US media pointed out that Pakistan reciprocated by ordering Saeed’s arrest.

The Washington Post described Saeed’s arrest as “a major move ahead of Prime Minister Khan’s scheduled visit,” noting that it could be another step towards launching the “promised campaign against banned militant organisations”.

Commenting on Hafiz Saeed’s arrest, diplomatic observers in Washington hoped that it would help Pakistan avoid the so-called blacklist of the Paris-based financial watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Pakistan is required to root out all terrorist groups from its soil and eradicate terrorism financing by October. Failing to do so could put Pakistan on the FATF blacklist.

Official sources in Washington say that the prime minister is likely to seek US support for staying off the FATF blacklist when he meets President Trump on Monday. Apparently, that’s why Islamabad has started legal proceedings against Hafiz Saeed and a dozen other suspects for financing terrorist organisations and using charitable donations for funding their activities.

Pakistani diplomats in Washington, however, point out that Islamabad is not only taking measures to eradicate terrorism, money laundering and terrorist financing, but is also cooperating with the United States in ending its 18-year-long military engagement in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is likely to be the first item on the US agenda of the Trump-Khan meeting. Washington wants Islamabad to cooperate with it in arranging a peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan that could hide the US failure to subdue the Taliban militants.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2019