• US security adviser discusses Afghan peace with his counterpart and ISI chief
• Moeed terms meeting ‘positive’

WASHINGTON: Two key Pakistani officials — National Security Adviser (NSA) Moeed Yusuf and Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence Faiz Hameed — met US security officials in Washington on Thursday for talks that focused on a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan.

“I met with Pakistan’s NSA today to consult on regional connectivity and security, and other areas of mutual cooperation,” said their host, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Mr Yusuf confirmed the meeting in a tweet, saying: “Had a positive follow-up meeting with NSA Jake Sullivan today in Washington.”

Both tweets were posted late on Thursday evening and were worded carefully to say only as much as the two sides wanted to reveal. While Mr Yusuf did not mention Afghanistan in his tweet, Mr Sullivan devoted half of his tweet to the Afghan issue.

“We discussed the urgent need for a reduction in violence in Afghanistan and a negotiated political settlement to the conflict,” Mr Sullivan wrote.

Mr Yusuf, however, used generic terms such as “bilateral issues and mutual interest”, to describe the talks, avoiding a direct reference to any issue. “Took stock of progress made since our Geneva meeting & discussed bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest. Agreed to sustain the momentum in Pak-US bilateral cooperation,” he wrote.

Thursday’s meeting was the second between the two NSAs who first met in Geneva in March and agreed to hold further discussion on Afghanistan and other bilateral relations.

Pakistan’s Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan, who also attended Thursday’s meeting, said the “two NSAs had a productive and useful exchange today in DC building on the conversation initiated in Geneva.”

He also retweeted a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, saying: “Pakistan considers Troika Plus an important forum to facilitate Afghan Peace Process and has been participating in the format regularly.”

The Troika Plus that includes Pakistan, the US, China and Russia had urged the Afghan government in May to engage openly with their Taliban counterparts. It had also asked the UN Security Council (UNSC) to review terrorist designation of Taliban individuals and entities. “Pakistan looks forward to Troika Plus (next) meeting in Doha and will continue to support efforts to achieve a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan,” the foreign office had stated.

The icebreaker in Geneva was the first highest-level physical contact between the two countries since the Biden administration took office.

US State Secretary Antony Blinken had spoken twice to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Bajwa before the Geneva meeting. Similarly, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin had also been in touch with Gen Bajwa.

Secretary Blinken, who returned to Washington on Thursday evening after a visit to India and Kuwait, told an Indian channel earlier in the day that Pakistan had a vital influence on the Taliban and the US wanted Islamabad to play that role.

“Pakistan has a vital role to play in using its influence with the Taliban to do whatever it can to make sure that the Taliban does not seek to take the country by force,” he told the Times of India TV. “And it does have influence, and it does have a role to play, and we hope that it plays it,” he added.

During his two-day stay in India, Blinken met Indian Minister for External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi and reviewed the latest developments in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, with them.

In an interview with ABC News, the top US diplomat said that he had received “deeply, deeply troubling” reports of atrocities in Afghanistan amid US withdrawal. And such reports “certainly do not speak well of the Taliban’s intentions for the country as a whole.”

In another interview to Al Jazeera, Blinken warned that an Afghanistan that does not respect the basic gains of the last 20 years “will be a pariah in the international community”.

The interviews, released by the secretary’s office in Washington, reflect the growing US concern that the Taliban were determined to take Kabul by force, rejecting international efforts for bringing a government that includes all Afghan factions.

Committed to withdrawing all US and Nato troops from Afghanistan by September 15, the Biden administration is now using its diplomatic influence to prevent a Taliban takeover and that’s where it sees a role for Pakistan.

While Pakistan also wants to prevent a military takeover in Kabul, Prime Minister Imran Khan told a US TV show this week that the US decision to set a timetable for withdrawing troops had narrowed Islamabad’s options, because the Taliban saw the withdrawal as their victory and were less receptive to reconciliation efforts than they would have been had the timetable not been announced.

The Pakistani team, which arrived in Washington three days ago, is also busy explaining its position in meetings with senior US officials, lawmakers, think tank and media representatives.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2021

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