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Pakistan, US in backchannel contacts to resolve rifts

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Washington, Aug 25 (IANS) Pakistan and the US have established back-channel contacts to resolve differences over key issues after US President Donald Trump singled out Islamabad for supporting terrorism.

A group of diplomats, military officials and security experts from the two countries earlier this month held their third off-the-record meeting here to discuss thorny issues, including Pakistan’s support for peace in Afghanistan, increasing US ties with India, New Delhi’s role in Afghanistan and Islamabad’s drift toward Beijing after initiation of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Former Pakistan ambassador to the US Jalil Abbas Jilani told The News International that the two sides were discussing the issues and would prepare recommendations for the government for the future of ties.

He said the informal interaction called the “Track II diplomacy” aimed at bringing private individuals and groups from the two countries to promote better understanding of issues and suggest solutions.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Aizaz Chaudhry welcomed the dialogue, saying: “Track II is not a substitute for official contacts but officials can benefit from the ideas generated.”

Representatives from the Pakistani side included former head of Military Intelligence Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmad (retd) and former Ambassador to Afghanistan Muhammad Sadiq.

The US side included former US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, former Ambassador Robin Raphel and security experts Tricia Bacon and David Smith.

Trump while announcing his new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia on Monday lashed out at Pakistan, urging the country to stop giving sanctuary to “agents of chaos, violence and terror”.

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” the US President said.

Pakistan, reacting to the criticism, expressed disappointment over lack of acknowledgement by Trump of Islamabad’s sacrifices in war against terror.

The News International reported that Islamabad was unhappy with the US for its support to “its arch-rival India’s role in Afghanistan”.

Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of Asia Programme at The Wilson Centre, said the dialogue was meant to convene former government and military officials in a closed, off-the-record environment to discuss possible pathways for cooperation.

Kugelman said that apart from terrorism and Afghanistan, both sides also discussed new potential areas of cooperation including the field of economics.

“The dialogue clarified the potential and limits of the relationship. That’s a useful thing at a moment when the future of the US-Pakistan relationship is so unsettled,” he said.

“Pakistan has expanded its control of its territory, especially into the tribal areas, but still needs to control its border to prevent fighters and supplies from moving across in both directions. We should support that effort,” Richard Boucher said.

Ambassador Chaudhry said lasting peace in Afghanistan could only be achieved through comprehensive political process. “Pakistan stands ready to work with Afghanistan and the US to that end.”

This objective is not served when one country indulges in a vicious blame game against the other, the ambassador said. “It is Pakistan — not Afghanistan — that has instituted strict border management measures to control cross-border movement. It is time to recognise that.”

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