Future of US-Pakistan relations rests upon progress in Afghanistan: FM
ISLAMABAD: The state of the recently contentious relationship between Pakistan and the Trump administration rests squarely on whether Washington’s new war plan for Afghanistan can turn the tide of the 17-year conflict, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said.
US commanders on the ground in Afghanistan, along with officials at the Pentagon and White House, have repeatedly stated Trump’s strategy of bludgeoning the Taliban into peace talks through battlefield victories is making progress. But officials in Islamabad, who US administration officials say have contributed to the increasingly tenuous political and security situation in the war-torn country, remain wary Trump’s South Asia policy will bear fruit, according to The Washington Times.
The future of US-Pakistan relations “is dependent on the improvement of the situation in Afghanistan”, Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Wednesday. His comments, made during a speech at the Washington-based US Institute for Peace, came after meetings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.
“Secretary Pompeo is ready to listen,” Qureshi said, regarding his meetings with the top US diplomat on repairing frayed US relations with Pakistan.
Qureshi’s visit comes roughly a month after Pakistani cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan took power in Islamabad as the country’s new prime minister. Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party was swept into power in July after securing a political majority during highly scrutinised parliamentary elections that month, paving the way for Khan’s eventual nomination as prime minister.
Politically conservative with a nationalistic streak, Khan has made past statements empathetic to extremist groups such as the Taliban and has lambasted US military actions in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan. However, Qureshi characterised his meetings with Pompeo and Bolton as positive, indicating Islamabad and Washington may be prepared to turn around a relationship that has deteriorated over the last several months.
“Building positivity at times is difficult,” Qureshi said. “Mindsets do not change overnight, they evolve.”
He added that evolution towards more positive relations was possible with the US. That said, the Pakistani diplomat made clear any criticism of Pakistan’s role destabilising Afghanistan would derail any such progress.
“We cannot and should not be held responsible” for the difficulties in Afghanistan, Qureshi said.
The Trump White House took Islamabad to task for its alleged support of groups such as the Haqqani Network and the Pakistani Taliban, during the roll out of the South Asia strategy last August. Islamabad has repeatedly countered such claims by touting their own losses to Afghan and Pakistani Taliban attacks in the years since the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan.
To that end, Qureshi said Pakistan would exhaust any and all options to help persuade moderate elements of the Taliban to the negotiating table.
“Pakistan is willing and will use all our influence to do that … there is no other way” to end the war in Afghanistan, he said.
In June, reports surfaced that an American delegation met with Taliban officials in Doha, for the first known bilateral talks with the terror group. The move fell in line with the Trump administration’s strategy of forcing the Taliban into negotiations with Kabul.
Prior to Trump taking office, Washington has repeatedly deferred with direct talks with the Taliban for the duration of the 17-year war, repeatedly stating any peace deal needed to be brokered by Kabul. Washington’s decision to hold direct talks with the terror group — a longtime demand by the Taliban’s leadership — has undermined the legitimacy of the central government, critics claim.