ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the United States on Wednesday sent out a clear message that they were ready to reset their bilateral relations, with Islamabad emphasising that finally after several years the diplomatic stalemate has been broken.
Both sides agreed that it was time for them to begin to deliver on all joint commitments so as to build confidence and trust. Pakistan recognised the shift in the US Afghan policy where it now wants to go into direct talks with the Afghan Taliban and wants Pakistan to assist.
The breakthrough came after two lengthy meetings at the Foreign Office and Prime Minister’s Secretariat, by the visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Junjua, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa Bajwa and DG ISI Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar.
Secretary Pompeo welcomed the smooth transition of power to a new civilian government, stressing the importance of strong democratic institutions. Qureshi announced later in a press conference that he was invited by Pompeo to Washington to carry forward the discussion held Wednesday in Islamabad.
“During my visit to New York to attend the UNGA, I will also go to Washington to meet my counterpart. But my first visit will be to Kabul. They are our neighbours; we are joined by geography, culture and tradition. Now we need to be each other’s support system and work together too. If Pakistan progresses, it will be beneficial to Afghanistan as well and vice versa,” he said.
"The perception of 'do more' or friction in the meeting is factually incorrect," said the foreign minister. "We presented realistic stance to the US authorities," he said. According to the stated positions of both countries, it was apparent that though all the differences on bilateral issues and Afghanistan had not been resolved in a matter of few hours, but there was a resolve to recognise these problems and move forward to resolve them.
Pakistan says the way of how to move forward on Afghanistan was blocking the way for improved bilateral relations with the US. The foreign minister said he frankly told his counterpart that if he wanted to proceed with Pakistan, the foundation lies in trust, frank and candid conversation. He said until and unless these concerns are addressed from both sides, progress is not possible.
“I spoke out to Secretary Pompeo and made him understand the mindset and approach of the new government under PM Imran Khan. Pakistan wants to see and review policies with the United States in a new light and has an approach that also involves its neighbours,” said the foreign minister. The US embassy released a statement and a press talk that Pompeo had with journalists who accompanied him.
“We talked about their new government, the opportunity to reset the relationship betweenour two countries across a broad spectrum -- economic, business, and commercial, the work that we all know that we need to do to try and develop a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan, which benefits certainly Afghanistan but also the United States and Pakistan. And I’m hopeful that the foundation that we laid today will set the set the conditions for continued success as we start to move forward,” Pompeo told the US media as he flew to New Delhi.
Qureshi pleased with the two rounds of talks said the atmosphere was cordial because the US is also now reflecting on their way forward and strategies. “They have also come to the consulting that the conflict in Afghanistan has a political settlement. And this is where we will see alignment and convergence between the US and Pakistan,” he said.
Pompeo was told that to achieve this target there has to be calm on Pakistan’s eastern border where the Army was engaged on the LoC. State Department's Spokesperson Heather Nauert in Washington quoted Secretary Pompeo as saying that in all his meetings he emphasised the important role Pakistan could play in bringing about a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, and conveyed the need for Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace and stability.
He also pointed out that he expressed hope for deeper counter terrorism cooperation between the two sides. Qureshi said the issue of the $300 million CSF funds was not brought up as it was a done deal and Pakistan had the capacity to stand on its own feet.
“Our relations are not limited to trade and barter,” he said. Instead, he pointed out that the US has agreed that the blame and shame game is not good as it only vitiates the atmosphere. “Yes, we have different issues and we will be thinking differently but our objectives are same. I feel that today’s meeting has set the stage to reset the environment for bilateral relations,” the foreign minister said.
General Dunford when asked if Pakistan had threatened closing down the GLOCs, replied, “We don’t -- we don’t have any reason to indicate that our cooperation in keeping the GLOCs open is going to change.”
Qureshi remarked that the format of the meeting was well thought out. “The way we organised our format at the PM secretariat; our meeting had the PM, our Army Chief, DG ISI, and the US government and military reps to get all perspectives on the table. The purpose of this meeting was to remove the speculation that was there in the past in such meetings where there was considered to be a difference between civilian narratives and military narratives,” he said.
Earlier, spokesman at the Foreign Office said that on Afghanistan, the foreign minister highlighted the latest positive developments on the Pakistan Afghanistan front, including operationalisation of the Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS).
“The minister reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to continue efforts for promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan. The two sides agreed that present conditions in Afghanistan were conducive to intensifying efforts for a political settlement. They underscored the need for the Taliban to seize the opportunity for talks in response to President Ghani’s offer for an unconditional dialogue”, he added.
“Secretary Pompeo has said that their State Department will lead this effort in collaboration with their other institutions. This is insight into their new strategy that the US has now opened up space for talks with the Taliban for a political settlement. The US does not want their footprint in Afghanistan for an indefinite time period. Of course a change of strategy of this nature cannot have an exact timeline, but the will is very clear,” the spokesman said.
Referring to the presence of the COAS and DG MI at the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, the foreign minister said this was to show that we are all on the same page. “Pakistan’s betterment is everyone’s first priority and that is what we will take forward from here,” he said.
According to a statement from the US State Department, Secretary Pompeo also highlighted the importance of the US-Pakistan relationship, and underscored areas of shared interest, such as the expansion of two-way trade and commercial ties.
“While meeting with Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Secretary Pompeo discussed the potential for the US and Pakistan to work together to advance joint priorities, including regional peace and stability. He also emphasised the value of strong people-to-people ties between our nations, built on decades of cultural and educational exchanges,” the statement added.
General Dunford told the US media that his job was to help support the Secretary as he sought to reset the relationship. “When we talked to General Bajwa on the military-to-military level, we agreed that – we listened to the prime minister very carefully, we listened to the secretary very carefully. Their objectives were very consistent between the Secretary and the prime minister, and General Bajwa and I agreed that we will leverage the military-to-military relationship to support the secretary and the prime minister, and more importantly, President Trump’s South Asia strategy,” he said.
When asked if Pakistan was a reliable partner, Secretary Pompeo responded, “So we’ve still got a long way to go, lots more discussion to be had, but the relationship military-to-military is one that has remained in a place where some of the other relationships haven’t, frankly. They’ve still continued to have relationships, worked on lots of projects that are important together, and I hope we can use that as one of the foundational elements as well.”
To a question, Pompeo maintained that the US delegation made clear to Pakistanis that "it's time for us to begin to deliver on our joints commitments." He explained that both sides talked and made agreements, but have not been able to actually execute those.
"So, there was broad agreement between myself and Foreign Minister Qureshi, as well as with the prime minister, that we need to begin to do things that will begin to actually, on the ground, deliver outcomes so that we can begin to build confidence and trust between the two countries. That was the focus of the gathering," he said.
Earlier, on his way to meet Pakistan’s new leaders, Pompeo said he wants to reset the relationship between the two countries. “We will have three opportunities to walk through the complexity of this relationship and hopefully begin to make some progress so that we can get back to set of common understandings. So that’s really the very straightforward objective,” he said.
Addressing the halt in security related assistance to Pakistan, Pompeo said the news about the suspension of aid was not new and that “Pakistan was told this past summer that they weren’t likely to get that money.”
He said that the rationale for Pakistan not getting the money was very clear. “It’s that we haven’t seen the progress that we need to see from them,” the secretary said, adding, “The very reason for this trip is to try and articulate what our expectation is, the things that they can do, the things that they expect us to do, and see if we can find a path forward together.”
He hoped that both countries would turn the page and begin to make progress. “But there are real expectations,” Pompeo said, adding, “We need Pakistan to seriously engage to help us get to the reconciliation we need in Afghanistan.”
The secretary stressed on Pakistan’s help to resolve issues related to Afghanistan. He mentioned General Nicholson and General Miller addressing the issue as well. Pompeo was also hopeful that his trip could convince the new government in Pakistan to provide assistance for reconciliation in Afghanistan. He further clarified that the term “aid” is used loosely. “It’s more complicated; it’s different sets of resources. But we were providing these resources when they made sense for the United States.”
Pompeo said working together could create chance of aid revival to Pakistan. “If that arises again, I am confident we’ll present to the president the rationale for that, and then something like that might make sense,” the secretary said.
The secretary also announced that Ambassador Zalmey Khalilzad will be joining the State Department team to assist in the reconciliation effort.
“His task is going to be working with Ambassador Wells and Ambassador Bass and our team will be fully focused on developing opportunities to get the Afghans and Taliban to come to reconciliation. That will be his singular mission statement,” he said.