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Wednesday Sep 05 2018
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Pakistan wishes to strengthen ties with US based on trust, respect: PM

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Pakistan looked forward to strengthening its relationship with the United States based on trust and respect during a visit on Wednesday by officials from Washington.

In the meeting held at the PM House, Pompeo, who arrived in Islamabad earlier in the day alongside Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph Dunford and a four-member delegation, met Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and other top-level officials.

The Pakistani premier said his government’s agenda was focused on the human development and poverty alleviation, for which peace and stability in the region were a pre-requisite, as per a statement issued by the PM House. He also underscored his commitment to peace with all the neighbours.

PM Khan shared Islamabad's perspective on the regional situation and reiterated the country's desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan, where the US — under President Donald Trump — is attempting to end its over-a-decade-long conflict by bringing the Taliban to the table for peace talks.

Khan 'optimistic' about resetting US-Pak ties

Congratulating Khan on forming the government, Secretary Pompeo said he appreciated his agenda of socio-economic development and conveyed the Trump administration's desire to work with Pakistan to achieve the common objectives of peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.

As the meeting between the two sides concluded, a journalist inquired the Pakistani premier if he was confident of resetting the relationship with the US, to which Khan said: "You know I'm a born optimist. A sportsman always is an optimist.

"He steps on the field and he thinks he is going to win."

This was the first high-level visit from Washington since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's (PTI) government came into power.

The Pompeo-led US delegation later reached the US Embassy in Islamabad, wherefrom they left for the airport to travel to India. In New Delhi, the next stop of his South Asia tour, he is expected to pile pressure over the country's purchases of Iranian oil and Russian missile systems.

'Do more' or 'willingness to move forward'?

On the other hand, a difference was seen in the statements issued by Qureshi, the minister of foreign affairs, and the US Department of State pertaining to Wednesday's bilateral meetings.

Addressing the press after the meeting, Qureshi had said the disconnect between Washington and Islamabad was addressed in the meeting with Pompeo as both sides agreed to "reset" the two-way linkages.

“Today’s atmosphere was entirely changed…..instead of ‘do more’, we were conveyed a message of ‘willingness to move forward’,” he said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the Foreign Office in Islamabad, Pakistan, September 5, 2018. Image: Geo News

The discussion was held in a pleasant atmosphere and the perception of "do more" or bitterness was untrue, the minister said, adding that Pakistan presented its stance with patience and self-respect and understood the US interests, whereas the other party also put forth their expectations in a positive way.

Qureshi said they had also conveyed to the US that Pakistan needs to be eased off on its eastern border for it to focus on its western frontier.

Meanwhile, a statement issued from the State Department said Pompeo had highlighted the importance of the Pakistan-US relationship during his meeting with the Pakistani leadership and underscored areas of shared interest, such as the expansion of two-way trade and commercial ties.

'Sustained and decisive measures'

While meeting with Qureshi, the US State Secretary discussed the potential for the Washington and Islamabad to work together to advance joint priorities, including regional peace and stability, the statement noted, adding that he also emphasised the value of strong people-to-people ties between the two nations, built on decades of cultural and educational exchanges.

During his meeting with Gen Bajwa, Pompeo expressed hope for a deeper counter-terrorism cooperation between the two nations, the statement mentioned, adding that in all of his meetings, the State Secretary emphasised the important role Pakistan could play in bringing about negotiated peace in Afghanistan.

Pompeo conveyed the "need for Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace and stability", it added.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at the Nur Khan Airbase, Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Image: Geo News
 

Pompeo, who was received by Foreign Ministry officials at the Nur Khan Airbase and Qureshi upon reaching the Foreign Office, held talks with the minister wherein matters of bilateral, regional, and international interests were discussed.

The foreign minister underscored the need to reset bilateral ties on the basis of mutual trust and respect, the FO said of the talks, adding that safeguarding Pakistan’s national interests will remain the supreme priority.

Hope Pakistan, US will leave past behind: Pompeo

Earlier, while speaking to journalists from his aeroplane en route to Islamabad, Pompeo had expressed his desire to improve the US-Pakistan relations, saying he "hope[d] that both countries could leave the past behind and begin to make progress.

“We will have three opportunities to walk through the complexity that is this relationship and, hopefully, begin to make some progress so that we can get back to a set of common understandings. So that’s really the very straightforward objective,” the State Secretary had said regarding his visit.

Pompeo had also indicated that the Trump administration could release aid to Islamabad that was halted earlier this year. “Pakistan was told this past summer that they weren’t likely to get that money,” he had said.

Stating that the rationale behind withholding the money was very clear, he said: “It’s that we haven’t seen the progress that we need to see from them.

“And the very reason for this trip is to try and articulate what it is our expectation is, the things that they can do, the things that they expect us to do, and see if we can’t find a path forward together,” he had commented.

Further, Pompeo stressed on Pakistan’s assistance and help to resolve issues related to stability in Afghanistan.

“We need Pakistan to seriously engage to help us get to the reconciliation we need in Afghanistan," he said, adding that Gen Miller, the commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) forces in Afghanistan, and Gen Nicholson, his predecessor, also share the same opinion.

Pakistanis have “important interests, security interests in Afghanistan to make sure they get the issues at their border right, and we need their help”, Pompeo had said, adding that he was hopeful that his trip could convince the new government in Islamabad to provide the assistance required for a reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Pompeo had said the eventual result of working together could mean the aid to Pakistan could revive. “If that arises again, I am confident we’ll present to the US president the rationale for that, and then something like that might make sense,” he said.

Turbulent US-Pak relations

The arrival of Pompeo and Dunford was uniquely timed, especially in light of the unbelievably cold US-Pakistan relations, and the Trump administration's on-and-off calls to "do more" and "no more".

While the bilateral linkages have historically had their ups and downs, Qureshi, the foreign minister, had commented earlier that Islamabad hoped to take forward the two-way ties in light of the mutual respect.

According to US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Pompeo's focus during the meetings with the top brass would be the terrorists in Pakistan and the related war being fought against them.

Despite Pakistan's new leadership, fresh expectations, and experts' belief that the two US officials' arrival in Islamabad would be a good opportunity to improve the ties, fears of relations deteriorating further remained.

Pentagon and the Coalition Support Funds

Last Sunday, it was reported that the US, through the Department of Defence and Pentagon, had terminated financial aid worth $300 million over "lack of Pakistani decisive actions".

The so-called Coalition Support Funds (CSF) were part of a broader suspension in aid to Pakistan announced by Trump at the start of the year when he accused Pakistan of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies & deceit”.

The new blow came as Mattis, who had an opportunity to authorise the said $300 million in CSF funds through this summer — if he saw concrete Pakistani actions to go after insurgents — chose not to do so, despite some US officials having held out the possibility that Islamabad could win back that support if it changed its behaviour.

“Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed,” Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner, the Pentagon spokesperson, had said, adding that the money could be spent on “other urgent priorities” if approved by US Congress.

Faulkner had also stated that another $500 million in CSF was stripped by the Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, which brought the total withheld funds to $800 million.

However, a Pakistani official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, had noted that he was unaware of a formal notification of the US decision on assistance but that one was expected by the end of September.

The same day, Qureshi had said the US administration did not cut off any aid to Pakistan but had, instead, announced to end the CSF that the country already spent against terrorism.

The US-Pak ties are currently suspended, he noted, adding that it was hoped a discussion would be conducted in an amicable manner to strengthen the bilateral relations.

'Lies & deceit'

However, a Pentagon spokesperson had said Monday the suspension of security assistance was announced in January 2018 and the CSF was a part of it.

Speaking exclusively to Geo.tv, the spokesperson had said: “This is not a new decision or a new announcement but an acknowledgement of a July request to reprogramme funds before they expire.

“The suspension of security assistance to Pakistan was announced in January 2018. The Coalition Support Fund [CSF] is part of the security aid that was scrapped and its suspension remains in place,” he asserted.

Commenting on how some CSF details had been “distorted" in the media coverage, the spokesperson explained that "several things were taken out of context in the reports".

“We continue to press Pakistan to indiscriminately target all terrorist groups, including the Haqqani Network and we continue to call on the country to arrest, expel or bring the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table,” the spokesperson added.

The Trump administration has persistently alleged that Pakistan was granting safe haven to insurgents who are waging a 17-year-old war in neighbouring Afghanistan, a charge Islamabad denies.

"The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools," Trump had tweeted at the start of this year.

"They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more," he warned.

Islamabad, however, has maintained that it has indiscriminately carried out operations against all terrorists, including the Haqqani network, and that the proof lay in the Operation Zarb-e-Azb carried out in Waziristan.

Earlier, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director-General Major General Asif Ghafoor had talked of how Pakistan never fought for money, but for peace, and that the Army had indiscriminately targeted terrorists at a “heavy cost of blood and treasure”.


—Additional reporting by Wajid Ali Syed in Washington DC

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