AUG 20, 2018: United States (US) Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is likely to visit Islamabad in the first week of September for consultations with Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team on issues of mutual interests, diplomatic and official sources told Dawn.
Pompeo, who is expected in Islamabad on Sept 5, will likely be the first foreign dignitary to meet the newly elected prime minister, who took oath of his office on Saturday.
During his talks with Pakistani officials, Secretary Pompeo may focus on two major issues: efforts to revive once close ties between the two states and Pakistan’s support for a US-led move to jump-start the Afghan peace process, sources told Dawn’s correspondent in Washington.
On Sunday the top US diplomat hailed the possibility of a brief cease-fire in Afghanistan, saying it is “time for peace” in the country where U.S. troops continue to fight in the longest-running war in American history.
“The United States welcomes the announcement by the Afghan government of a cease-fire conditioned on Taliban participation,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The United States supports President Ghani’s offer for comprehensive negotiations on a mutually agreed agenda.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced on Sunday plans for a three-month cease-fire in honor of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday. According to a Reuters report, the Taliban provisionally accepted an agreement for a four-day truce and pledged to release hundreds of prisoners in a show of goodwill.
Pompeo stressed that there are no “obstacles to talks” and that the U.S. stands ready to broker discussions between Ghani’s government and the Taliban.
Alice Wells, who heads the Bureau for South Asian affairs at the State Department, may also accompany Pompeo, sources told Dawn.
Earlier this week, US officials urged Pakistan to help end the Afghan war, adding that recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan have not discouraged them from negotiating peace with some Taliban factions.
“What we’re seeing here is, there are some factions, some elements of the Taliban that clearly are not on board with peace. Others do want to have peace negotiations and peace discussions,” said State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert while commenting on this week’s terrorist attacks in Kabul that killed almost 50 people.
On Tuesday, a senior US official reminded Pakistan that now was the time to peacefully end the 17-year old war in Afghanistan and encouraged Islamabad to play a leading role in this process.
Apparently, Washington believes that Pakistan still has enough influence over the Afghan Taliban to persuade them to join the peace process, and wants Islamabad to help establish a political setup in Kabul that would allow a peaceful withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
On Monday, Secretary Pompeo telephoned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and sought his support for arranging another ceasefire in Afghanistan.
The first ceasefire ─ on Eidul Fitr ─ led to the first face-to-face talks between US and Taliban officials in Doha last month. Both sides are now trying to hold the second round ─ also in Doha ─ in September.
In recent statements, US officials have also expressed the desire to restore their once close ties with Pakistan.
On Saturday, the US State Department said that it recognises and welcomes the new Pakistani prime minister, dispelling the impression that Washington was not happy with Imran Khan’s election.
In an earlier statement, a senior US official had hoped that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government would work with the US for translating tough issues into mutual achievements.
“We recognize and welcome the newly elected Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on taking the oath of office,” Nauert said.
Usually, the State Department prefers to comment on such issues on a working day but Nauert released this statement on Saturday, hours after Khan took the oath of his office.
“For over 70 years, the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has been a vital one,” she said. “The United States looks forward to working with Pakistan’s new civilian government to promote peace and prosperity in Pakistan and the region.”
In her speech at the Pakistan Embassy earlier this week, Wells not only welcomed Imran Khan’s election but also expressed the desire to work with his government for resolving difficult issues.
Wells noted that the new leader had also recognized the importance of US-Pakistan relationship in his public statements and in his first meeting with US Embassy officials in Islamabad.
“The issues are tough, no doubt, but together, I know we can translate these shared interests into further action that achieves our mutual objectives,” she said.
She also said that now was the time to peacefully end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan and encouraged the new Pakistani government to play a leading role in this process.
“A negotiated political settlement to the 17-year-long conflict in Afghanistan is a critical shared goal, and an area where we all would hope to see progress in the coming months,” she said. “In order to further these shared objectives, the United States relies on its relationships with the government, businesses, and people of Pakistan.”
In a similar message on Tuesday, Secretary Pompeo also stressed this point and expressed the desire to work with Pakistan to “advance (the) shared goals of security, stability, and prosperity in South Asia.”
Last year, President Donald Trump said that, instead of going with his “original instinct” to withdraw U.S. forces, he would keep troops in Afghanistan, where they have been for nearly 17 years.
But NBC News reported on Friday that Trump is showing increasing interest in a plan to privatize the war, which has been promoted by Erik Prince, who founded the private military company formerly known as Blackwater.