WASHINGTON: US Vice President Mike Pence told visiting Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi that his country “must do more” against the Taliban and other militants, the White House said on Saturday. “Vice President Pence reiterated President (Donald) Trump’s request that the Government of Pakistan must do more to address the continued presence of the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other terrorist groups operating in their country,” the White House said in a statement on the Friday call.
“Pakistan could and should work closer with the United States,” Pence said. According to Washington, there is little sign that Islamabad has made a decision to end its support for the Taliban, which the country’s powerful security services see as safeguarding its interests and as a bulwark against Indian influence in Kabul. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last month proposed peace talks with the Taliban, which could eventually be recognized as a political party if it observes a ceasefire and officially recognizes the Afghan government and constitution.
The Taliban has stopped short of rejecting the proposal, but its response has been muted. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had an unscheduled meeting with US Vice President Michael Pence here on Friday and their talks focused on finding a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan.
The sources said the 30-minute, one-on-one meeting took place at the vice president’s residence at the US Naval Observatory, which is close to the Pakistan Embassy in Washington. The meeting was held on Pakistan’s request. Michael Cutrone, special adviser to Vice President Pence for South Asian Affairs, attended the meeting as a note-taker. No US or Pakistani official accompanied the two leaders at this meeting. Later, the prime minister also had a 40-minute meeting with Congressman Ted Yoho, chairman of the House Committee on Asia and the Pacific, and its ranking Democrat, Congressman Brad Sherman.
Like Mr Pence, the US lawmakers also focused on the current situation in Afghanistan but they expressed “their concern about China’s growing influence in Pakistan” as well, sources told Dawn. While discussing bilateral relations, the two lawmakers conveyed their concern about blasphemy cases against Christians in Pakistan, the sources added. In the Pence-Abbasi meeting, both sides “explained their perspectives” on Afghanistan.
The prime minister assured Mr Pence of Pakistan’s “sincere commitment” to efforts for peace in Afghanistan and also underlined “Pakistan’s successes” in the war against terrorism, the sources said.
“The prime minister assured the US leader that no other state wants peace in Afghanistan more than Pakistan does, as it will be a direct beneficiary of this peace,” said a source. Diplomatic observers in Washington view the Pence-Abbasi meeting as a continuation of their talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York last year. At that Sept 20 meeting, the two allies had resolved to remain engaged and carry forward the relationship that had been on a downward trajectory since the announcement of the US policy for Afghanistan and South Asia in August 2017.
Official sources in Washington said that the desire to continue the bilateral relationship was expressed at Friday’s meeting. Pakistan felt the need to request another meeting with Mr Pence because the last meeting had “moved things forward,” said one source. Other sources noted that recent “positive developments” also encouraged Pakistan to seek a meeting. They referred to several statements from both US civil and military officials, acknowledging that Pakistan has taken “some positive steps” for restoring peace to Afghanistan. US officials noted that Pakistan had been encouraging the Taliban to participate in the reconciliation process, as Washington desires. “Statements from the US side have started to change. Pakistan too is doing what it should have. Channels are more open now than before. There have been regular interactions between the two governments,” said a non-Pakistani diplomatic source when asked to explain why Pakistan felt the need to ask for this meeting.