ISLAMABAD: US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is in Pakistan for meetings with top officials, including the prime minister and the army chief today, Friday, one day after she told a gathering in India the US did not see itself building a “broad relationship” with Islamabad.
Sherman is the senior most US diplomat to visit the South Asian nation since President Joe Biden’s administration assumed office in Washington. She comes to Pakistan after a trip to India during which she said her visit to the Pakistani capital was aimed at accomplishing a “specific and narrow purpose.”
Wendy Sharma held meetings with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf and Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa during her two-day stay in the Pakistani capital. She was also expected to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan, but the meeting did not materialise for some reasons.
On Friday afternoon, the State Department issued two statements on Sherman’s engagements in Islamabad, indicating the centrality of the Afghan issue in US-Pakistan talks.
The department’s spokesperson Ned Price said that in her meeting with Qureshi, Sherman discussed areas of bilateral cooperation, the importance of the US-Pakistan relationship and the way forward in Afghanistan. “Deputy Secretary Sherman emphasised the importance of a coordinated approach to Afghanistan and other issues vital to regional stability,” the statement added.
Another brief statement on Sherman’s meeting with NSA Yusuf said that the two officials “discussed developments in Afghanistan and ways to advance cooperation across the bilateral relationship”.
At a news briefing in Islamabad, Sherman said that while she also discussed bilateral relations with Pakistani officials, “this particular trip was to really consult deeply on how we see the changing circumstances, given the change that has taken place in Afghanistan.”
According to Arab News, this confirms what Sherman said at an event in Mumbai on Thursday where she declared that the US no longer sees itself building a “broad-based relationship” with Pakistan and that she was going to Islamabad with a “specific and narrow purpose” of talks on Afghanistan. Later in a tweet, Sherman did say that she met Qureshi to “discuss Afghanistan’s future” and “the important and long-standing” US-Pakistan relationship. “We look forward to continuing to address pressing regional and global challenges,” she added.
According to Arab News, after Sherman’s meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, his office said he told the visitor dignitary Islamabad sought a “broad-based, long-term and lasting relationship” with the United States based on economic cooperation and the mutual promotion of peace in the region.
“The process of regular and systematic dialogue between Pakistan and the United States is essential for the promotion of our mutual interests as well as common regional goals,” a statement from Qureshi’s office said.
But a day earlier, while addressing an event in Mumbai, Sherman was quoted by media as telling a gathering:
“We [US] don’t see ourselves building our broad relationship with Pakistan and we have no interest in returning to the days of a hyphenated India, Pakistan … That’s not where we are, that’s not where we are going to be.”
Last month, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said the United States would be looking at its relationship with Pakistan in the coming weeks to formulate what role Washington would want it to play in the future of Afghanistan.
In the first public hearing in Congress about Afghanistan since the August collapse of the US-backed Afghan government, Blinken told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that Pakistan has a “multiplicity of interests some that are in conflict with ours.”
“It is one that is involved hedging its bets constantly about the future of Afghanistan, it’s one that’s involved harboring members of the Taliban … It is one that’s also involved in different points cooperation with us on counterterrorism,” Blinken said.