Pakistan US agree to reset relations, will avoid ‘blame and shame game’

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US team didn’t forget to repeat mantra of ‘do more’,
Zalmay Khalilzwas especially present in crucial talks

Nation special report
ISLAMABAD: Notwithstanding Pakistan has described the first interaction with the United States after the taking over the government set-up by PTI as resetting of relations, the US didn’t change its old stance and kept repeating mantra of ‘do more’.

During the meeting between Imran Khan and US Foreign Secretary Michael Pompeo at the PM Office, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, DG-ISI Lt. Gen Naveed Mukhtar, Advisor, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Secretary Ms. Tehmina Janjua were also present.

US Foreign Secretary was accompanied by US Army Chief Gen Joseph Dunford, US ambassador David Hale and particularly Zalmay Khalil zad, the new US representative for Afghanistan.

Interestingly, Imran Khan forgot (or just slipped from mind) to shake hand with visiting US Army Chief Gen Joseph Dunford and US ambassador David Hale as he entered the room. At the reminding by Gen Bajwa, he summarily shook hands with both the personalities.

The statement issued by the US State Department on Pompeo’s interactions with the Pakistani leadership, over shadowed the lengthy press conference by Pak Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.  The statement highlighted the point of view of US Government as the top American diplomat “in all of his meetings, 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”.

While meeting with Foreign Minister 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 the two nations, built on decades of cultural and educational exchanges.

During his meeting with Army Chief Gen Bajwa, Secretary Pompeo welcomed the smooth transition of power to a new civilian government, stressing the importance of strong democratic institutions. “Pompeo also expressed hope for deeper counter-terrorism cooperation between our nations,” the statement said.

The secretary had earlier congratulated Prime Minister Khan on the formation of his government, and welcomed the further strengthening of civilian institutions in Pakistan.

Later, while talking to journalists at the Noor Khan airbase before his departure, Secretary Pompeo said, “We talked about their new government, the opportunity to reset the relationship between our 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 conditions for continued success as we start to move forward.”

General Dunford on the occasion said, “Gen 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.”

To a query, Secretary Pompeo said, “We made clear to them (Pakistan) that – and they agreed – it’s time for us to begin to deliver on our joint commitments, right.  We’ve had lots of times where we’ve talked and made agreements, but we haven’t been able to actually execute those. 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.”

US embassy statement

On the other hand, quoting Secretary Pompeo, the US embassy in Islamabad said, “We talked about their new government, the opportunity to reset relationship between the 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 conditions for continued success as we start to move forward.”

About any firm commitments from Pakistanis that would potentially merit resumption of military security assistance, Secretary Pompeo said, “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 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.”

General Dunford was quoted as saying, “And my job was to help support the Secretary as he – 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 military-to-military relationship to support the Secretary and the prime minister, and more importantly, President (Donald) Trump’s South Asia strategy.”

Questioned if the ground lines of communication will remain open, General Dunford said, “We don’t – we don’t have any reason to indicate that our cooperation in keeping the GLOCs open is going to change.”

State Department’s take

A statement issued by the US State Department said yesterday that US State Secretary Mike Pompeo emphasised on the important role Pakistan can play in bringing negotiated peace in Afghanistan.

State Department spokesperson said that congratulating Prime Minister Imran Khan on the formation of his government, the Secretary welcomed the further strengthening of civilian institutions.

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 Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Secretary Pompeo discussed the potential for the United States 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.”

During his meeting with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Secretary Pompeo welcomed the smooth transition of power to a new civilian government, stressing the importance of strong democratic institutions. Pompeo also expressed hope for deeper counter terrorism cooperation between “our nations”.

In all of his meetings, the secretary 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.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has claimed that an impasse in Pakistan-US relations has been broken during talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Pakistan on Wednesday, while the US has said that its top diplomat conveyed the need for Islamabad to take ‘sustained and decisive measures’ against terrorists in all his meetings with civil and military leadership of the country, making it clear that Washington’s position on the thorny issue remains unchanged.

Pompeo, along with Chairman US Joint Chief of Staff General Joseph Dunford and other senior officials, held talks with Qureshi, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa during a short trip while on his way to India.

Briefing journalists after the high-profile visit, Foreign Minister Qureshi said the US administration has reviewed its policy in Afghanistan and now it is amenable to talks with the Taliban in an effort to end the 16-year-old conflict in the battered country.

The minister said that Pompeo’s visit concluded positively as the top US diplomat invited him to visit Washington. “It was a good meeting with similar results … we met, listened, understood, talked and then decided on a next meeting,” he added.

“They have 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.

CSF issue not discussed

Qureshi said he did not discuss the recent US decision to cancel reimbursement of $300 million in Coalition Support Fund (CSF) to Pakistan.

He said this decision was made before this government came into power, adding that the first tranche of $500 million had already been stopped, and there were talks that the funds were to be rerouted. “But I decided not to bring this up in the meeting today. Our relationship is not just one of give and take. We are a proud nation, we have our own divinity where we have every resource at hand to be self-sufficient & feed our people on our own.”

He said that contrary to the media’s claim that Washington would press Islamabad to do more in the fight against terror, the US delegation conveyed a “willingness to move forward”.

Qureshi said he ‘bravely’ presented Pakistan’s stance, during the interaction. “From the body language you should have gauged that the meeting took place in a cordial atmosphere … Pompeo has invited me to visit Washington.”

“I made him understand the mindset and new approach of the government under PM Imran Khan. We want to see and review the polices with the US in a new light, and have an approach that involves our neighbours as well. Our agenda is one of reforms, and the basis of that is the betterment of life for the common man. Our basis is regional connectivity, economic development. And this is the agenda of our foreign policy,” he asserted.

Qureshi said 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.

“Today, we have shown 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.

The foreign minister also announced that his first visit out of Pakistan will be to Afghanistan. “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.”