US sends high-level delegation in move to repair relations

LISA Curtis, US Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Council Director for South Asia, and other officials hold talks with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua in Islamabad on Thursday.—White Star

ISLAMABAD: Strains in the Pak-US relationship appear to be disappearing fast as the two sides on Thursday agreed to continue bilateral engagement at all levels and reinvigorate relationship to achieve the common objective of defeating terrorism.

The consensus was reached when an interagency US delegation led by Lisa Curtis, deputy assistant to the president and National Security Council senior director for South Asia, visited here and held talks with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The US delegation included the acting assistant secretary of state, Ambassador Alice Wells, acting Assistant Secretary of Defence David Helvey and other senior officials from the Departments of State and Defence.

In a surprising ‘coincidence’ a Canadian citizen, his US national wife and their three children were recovered from the custody of terrorists by the Pakistan Army on Thursday — some five years after their abduction in Afghanistan. The recovery was instantly hailed by the White House.

Gen Bajwa airs Islamabad’s concerns about regional stability

This was the first high-level US delegation’s visit to Pakistan after US President Donald Trump unveiled a new strategy on South Asia and Afghanistan.

Allice Wells last visited Pakistan in August. She was scheduled to visit Pakistan again on Aug 28 to follow up on President Trump’s policy review of the region, but Pakistan had refused to receive her delegation in what was widely seen as a snub to the US at a time when the relations between the two countries were hitting a new low.

“At the request of the government of Pakistan, the visit of the US delegation has been postponed until a mutually convenient time,” the Pakistan’s Foreign Office had stated in a diplomatically worded brief press release.

The US Embassy had also confirmed that the meetings were deferred on Pakistan’s request.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif postponed his visit to the US. He was scheduled to meet US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Aug 25. Another visit — that of a delegation led by senior White House National Security Council official Lisa Curtis — had also been rescheduled.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif later visited the United States and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal is currently in the US.

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua led the Pakistani side during Thursday’s talks at the Foreign Office. Those who assisted her in the meeting included senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant departments.

“The two sides reviewed the state of play in the relationship in wake of the US strategy on Afghanistan and South Asia and agreed to continue discussions on all matters of mutual interest”, a statement issued by the Foreign Office said.

Constructive participation

Reiterating Pakistan’s stance for a politically negotiated settlement owned and led by the Afghans, the foreign secretary reaffirmed Pakistan’s constructive participation in all regional and bilateral mechanisms aimed at pursuing a peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict. The US delegation was also informed on the recent visit by Pakistani officials to Kabul with a view to intensifying engagement and addressing mutual concerns particularly border management and repatriation of refugees.

Highlighting Pakistan’s ongoing law enforcement and counterterrorism campaign, the foreign secretary apprised the US delegation of Pakistan’s efforts in eliminating terrorism from the country’s soil. Pakistan’s concerns on continued attacks from across the border were also shared.

The US delegation was informed about the atrocities and human rights violations being committed by Indian forces in held Kashmir resulting in hundreds of casualties. It was noted that persistent Indian refusal to engage with Pakistan despite Pakistan’s repeated overtures for a comprehensive dialogue was adversely impacting regional stability.

Noting that the US had a long track record of cooperation with Pakistan, the US delegation emphasised the importance of reinvigorating the bilateral relationship in order to achieve the common objectives of peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. The two sides agreed to continue bilateral engagements at all levels.

The US delegation also paid a courtesy call on Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif.

Meeting with COAS

The US delegation comprising Lisa Curtis, Ambassador Alice G. Wells, Ambassador David Hale and others also called on General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Thursday. The delegation briefed the COAS on contours of US strategy in South Asia. The discussion focused on regional security situation, including Afghanistan, and how Pakistan has positively contributed towards peace and stability in the region.

According to the Inter-Services Public Relations, the COAS highlighted concerns of Pakistan regarding peace and stability in the region. He reiterated that Pakistan had done its best despite constraints and would continue its efforts for the sake of the future of Pakistan and in line with aspirations of the Pakistani people. The delegation appreciated and acknowledged the Pakistan Army’s contributions and Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war on terror.

The US embassy in Islamabad had planned a media interaction with the US delegation on Thursday evening, but the event was cancelled by the afternoon.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2017

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