US diplomat to hold key talks on Afghan issue

Published October 6, 2021
Wendy Sherman arrives for a meeting on Syria at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva February 13, 2014. — Reuters/File
Wendy Sherman arrives for a meeting on Syria at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva February 13, 2014. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman arrives in Islamabad on Thursday for talks aimed at bridging a growing chasm between the United States and Pakistan on the Afghan issue.

The State Department said Ms Sherman 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 travels 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,” said a media note issued by the office of the department’s spokesperson.

Other diplomatic sources in Washington noted that this would be an important and “the highest-level US visit so far under the Biden administration.” Ms Sherman is the senior most official in the State Department after Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“The visit is taking place at a very critical time both, in the context of Afghanistan and developments in the wider region,” said a senior diplomatic source when asked to explain why Islamabad sees this as an important visit.

The source pointed out that the Biden administration did “not seem to be reluctant to travel to both India and Pakistan in one go, which was the case in the past.”

“This is an important visit, and we look forward to engaging with Dy Secretary Sherman,” Pakistan’s US Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan told Dawn. “Together, we would explore ways to strengthen and expand our bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest and concern.”

According to these sources, the Biden administration is focusing on four major points in its talks with Pakistan, recognition of the Taliban government in Kabul, international sanctions on Afghanistan, access to Afghanistan and counter-terrorism cooperation.

The sources say that the United States does not want Pakistan to recognise the Taliban regime before the rest of the international community. Instead, it wants Pakistan to continue its efforts for softening the Taliban position on controversial issues, such as inclusive governance, human rights, girls’ education and allowing women to work.

The Americans believe that a change of position on these issues could have a positive impact on the Taliban image and pave the way for their acceptance in the United Nations. Individual nations, like Pakistan, should delay their recognition till then.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2021

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