WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is sending its top diplomat to India and Pakistan next week for separate talks with the two governments on bilateral relations, the US State Department announced on Monday.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman is the highest-ranking career diplomat in the State Department as the Secretary of State, who is equivalent to a foreign minister in other countries, is always a political appointee. She is the highest-ranking US visitor to Pakistan under President Joe Biden and since Taliban’s victory in Kabul.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Asad Majeed Khan spoke to Ms Sherman on Sept 24 and apparently discussed arrangements for her visit.

“We discussed ways to deepen bilateral cooperation. Ambassador Sherman appreciated Pakistan’s assistance in the evacuation of American and other nationals from Afghanistan. She also appreciated Pakistan for hosting Afghan refugees,” he said in a tweet.

Ms Sherman will leave Washington on Sept 29 for Geneva to lead an interagency delegation to the US-Russia bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue. She will be in New Delhi on Oct 6 for a series of bilateral meetings, civil society events and the India Ideas Summit. On Oct 7, she will travel to Mumbai for engagements with business and civil society.

“Deputy Secretary Sherman will complete her trip by traveling to Islamabad on Oct 7-8 to meet senior officials,” the State Department said. The official announcement did not identify the officials she will meet in Islamabad, nor did it reveal her agenda for the talks.

Last week, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met his US counterpart Antony Blinken in New York on the sidelines of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. Their talk focused on the current situation in Afghanistan where the Taliban ousted the pro-US Ghani government in mid-August. The takeover followed the withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn country.

The United States now wants Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to include other factions in government, respect human rights, allow women to work and girls to attend school.

Pakistan has assured the international community that it too wants an inclusive government in Kabul and will continue urging the Taliban to fulfil the promises they made to the international community.

But Islamabad has also warned the international community that its influence over the Taliban is limited and it cannot force them to do anything.

In his meeting with Secretary Blinken, Mr Qureshi raised the Kashmir issue as well, telling the former that there could be no peace in South Asia until this decades-old dispute is settled.

Mr Qureshi also said at a briefing on Thursday that both sides had agreed to hold more talks on Afghanistan and other issues.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2021

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