ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON: Pakistan on Thursday categorically said it wanted an end to the controversy over a telephone call between Prime Minister Imran Khan and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“We would want this episode to end. The foreign minister has already commented in detail. Politically, we need to move on,” Foreign Office Spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal said in the weekly media briefing.
In the background is the fact that the US in a statement pointed out that Pompeo had raised the issue of “terrorism” with Khan, something that Pakistan categorically denied till a copy of the tape recording of the conversation was provided to the Foreign Office by the State Department.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has told the US that longstanding relations with the US were important to Pakistan and that he looked forward to welcoming Secretary Pompeo in Islamabad.
He told Ambassador Hale that his interactions with the US leadership would be based on honesty and sincerity, so as to develop a sustained partnership in the interest of both the countries.
Even before Mike Pompeo and General Joseph F. Dunford could reach Pakistan, the media was told in Washington that the US had “permanent interests in South Asia…and it wanted to maintain a presence to have influence in the region”.
The media was also told that ‘terrorism’ was an important issue for the US, which would be raised with their counterparts in Islamabad.
Pakistan says it looks forward to these interactions with the United States and in these meetings “Interests of both sides need to be considered and accommodated. The process of diplomacy is an endeavour to find common grounds to mutual satisfaction”.
Days ago, the outgoing US Ambassador David Hale said the objective of Secretary Pompeo’s visit was also because the United State was taking great interest in the prime minister's reform agenda — a readiness to turn the page.
When asked about the US reservations about payment for CPEC if the government went to the IMF for a bailout, and whether this would be raised during the upcoming talks, the spokesman said, “There is an economic wing in MoFA. In our view, the financial matters, especially any prospective decision regarding multilateral financial institutions, is an entirely different subject. Discussions with the US Secretary of State on the other hand will focus on all issues of mutual interest.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense James Mattis has confirmed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford will fly to Islamabad to meet the new government officials.
Answering a question during a rare media briefing at the Pentagon, Mattis said, "As far as Pakistan goes, the secretary of state and the chairman are going to fly to Islamabad to meet the new government that's in place there now."
Explaining the possible talking points of the meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan, and other officials, the secretary said, "To make it very clear what we have to do, all of our nations, in meeting our common foe, the terrorists, and make that a primary part of the discussions."
During the briefing, Secretary Mattis announced that the United Arab Emirates and Qatar had joined the Nato-led campaign in Afghanistan as partners. "32 of the 39 nations which have already committed forces to the mission agreed to either increase or sustain the current force levels through 2019," he said.
He emphasised that the US was fully supporting the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation efforts, and "hard fighting is going to convince the Taliban they must negotiate."
The secretary was joined by Chairman Dunford during the briefing, who said the US was going to maintain a presence to have influence in the region. "We have permanent interests in South Asia, diplomatic interests and security interests," he said, adding that "the diplomatic presence, the security presence, and the form of that presence is going to change over time."
Giving out an example, he said a few years ago, "we had over a hundred thousand US forces in Afghanistan and today we have about 14,000. So there will be a permanent diplomatic mission in Afghanistan. There'll be permanent diplomatic presence across South Asia, but I certainly don’t expect that the current forces that we have in Afghanistan represent an enduring large military commitment," Gen Dunford said.
The Trump administration has been hoping that increased military pressure will help bring the Taliban to either surrender or negotiate. The Taliban committed to proposed ceasefire earlier but refused to negotiate with the Afghan government. Defending the administration's strategy, Mattis said, "There are positive reasons to stick with the strategy, and we are going to drive this to a negotiated settlement."
He also dismissed that private military forces could replace the US Army troops in Afghanistan. Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo are scheduled to reach New Delhi for a 2+2 dialogue with Indian leaders in the first week of September. Secretary Pompeo and Chairman Dunford are expected to have a layover in Islamabad on September 5, where both leaders will meet civilian and military leadership.