ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan, during his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said that Pakistan looked forward to strengthening its relationship with the US based on trust and respect.
The meeting, which took place at the PM House in Islamabad, also had Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph Dunford, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and others in presence.
During the meeting, the prime minister said that his government’s agenda was focused on human development and poverty alleviation, for which peace and stability in the region was a pre-requisite, according to a statement issued by the PM House. He underscored his commitment to peace with all neighbours.
PM Khan also shared Pakistan’s perspective on the situation in the region and reiterated its desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Secretary Pompeo congratulated the prime minister on forming the government.
The US secretary of state appreciated PM Khan’s agenda of socio-economic development and conveyed the desire of US administration to work with Pakistan to achieve common objectives of peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.
PM Khan ‘optimistic’ about resetting Pak-US ties
As the meeting between the two sides concluded, a journalist inquired the Pakistan premier if he was confident he could reset the relationship with the United States.
To this, PM Khan replied: “You know I’m a born optimist. A sportsman always is an optimist. He steps on the field and he thinks he is going to win.
Later, the US delegation led by Secretary Pompeo reached the US Embassy in Islamabad, from where the delegates left for airport after a while.
Secretary Pompeo and others then left for India from Islamabad Wednesday evening.
‘Do more’ or ‘willingness to move forward’?
A difference was seen in the statements by Foreign Minister Qureshi and the US State Department pertaining to Wednesday’s bilateral meetings.
Addressing the press after the meeting, Qureshi said the disconnect between Pakistan and US was addressed in the meeting with Secretary Pompeo as both sides agreed to ‘reset’ their bilateral relations.
“Today’s atmosphere was entirely changed…..instead of ‘do more’ we were conveyed a message of ‘willingness to move forward’,” he said.
The foreign minister said the discussion was held in a pleasant atmosphere and the perception of ‘do more’ or bitterness was not true. He said that Pakistan presented its stance with patience and self-respect, adding that they understood US interests and also presented their expectations in a positive way.
Qureshi said they also conveyed the US that Pakistan needs to be eased on its eastern border for it to focus on its western frontier.
Meanwhile, a statement issued from the US State Department said that Secretary Pompeo, during his meeting with Pakistani leadership, highlighted the importance of the Pakistan-US 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, the US secretary of State discussed the potential for the United States and Pakistan to work together to advance joint priorities, including regional peace and stability, the statement said. He also emphasised the value of strong people-to-people ties between the two nations, built on decades of cultural and educational exchanges.
Secretary Pompeo, during his meeting with Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Bajwa, expressed hope for deeper counter-terrorism cooperation between the two countries.
The statement further said that in all of his meetings, the US secretary of state 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.”
Upon arrival in Islamabad, Pompeo held talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Pompeo, who was accompanied by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford and a four-member delegation, was received by Qureshi upon reaching the Foreign Office from Nur Khan Airbase.
During the talks at the FO, bilateral, regional and international issues were discussed.
FM Qureshi underscored the need to reset bilateral ties on the basis of mutual trust and respect, the FO said regarding the talks.
Safeguarding Pakistan’s national interests will remain supreme priority, it added.
Earlier this afternoon, Pompeo landed in Islamabad and was received by officials of the Foreign Ministry.
This is the first high-level visit from Washington since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government assumed office.
Pompeo is also expected to call on Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Jawed Bajwa during his brief stay in the capital, diplomatic official said.
He is due to visit India on the next stop of his South Asia tour where he is expected to pile pressure on New Delhi over its purchases of Iranian oil and Russian missile systems in talks with senior Indian officials.
Hope Pakistan, US will leave past behind: Pompeo
Speaking to the media from his airplane en route to Islamabad, Pompeo said he hopes to reset the relations between the two countries.
“We hope that both countries could leave the past behind and begin to make progress,” Pompeo said.
“We will have three opportunities to walk through the complexity that is this relationship and hopefully begin to make some progress so that we can get back to set of common understandings. So that’s really the very straightforward objective,” the US secretary of state regarding his visit.
Pompeo also indicated that the Trump administration could release aid to Pakistan that was halted earlier this year.
“Pakistan was told this past summer that they weren’t likely to get that money,” the Secretary said.
Stating that the rationale for Pakistan not getting the money is very clear, he said, “It’s that we haven’t seen the progress that we need to see from them.”
“And the very reason for this trip is to try and articulate what it is our expectation is, the things that they can do, the things that they expect us to do, and see if we can’t find a path forward together,” he upheld.
Further, Pompeo stressed on Pakistan’s assistance and help to resolve issues related to stability in Afghanistan.
“We need Pakistan to seriously engage to help us get to the reconciliation we need in Afghanistan,” he said and mentioned General Nicholson and General Miller having the same opinion on the issue.
Pakistanis have “important interests, security interests in Afghanistan to make sure they get the issues at their border right, and we need their help”, Pompeo said.
He was also hopeful that his trip could convince the new government in Pakistan to provide the assistance for reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Pompeo said that the eventual result of working together could mean the aid to Pakistan could revive. “If that arises again, I am confident we’ll present to the US president the rationale for that, and then something like that might make sense,” the US secretary of state said.
The arrival of Pompeo and Dunford is uniquely timed, especially in light of the unbelievably cold US-Pakistan relations, and the Trump administration’s on-and-off calls to “do more” and “no more”.
While the bilateral linkages have historically had their ups and downs, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Pakistani minister of foreign affairs, commented that Islamabad hopes to take forward the two-way ties in light of the mutual respect.
According to US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Pompeo’s focus during the meetings with the top brass would be the terrorists in Pakistan and the related war being fought against them.
Despite Pakistan’s new leadership, fresh expectations, and experts’ belief that the two US officials’ arrival in Islamabad would be a good opportunity to improve the ties, fears of relations deteriorating further still remain.
Last Sunday, it was reported that the US, through the Department of Defence and Pentagon, had terminated financial aid worth $300 million over “lack of Pakistani decisive actions”.
The so-called Coalition Support Funds (CSF) were part of a broader suspension in aid to Pakistan announced by US President Donald Trump at the start of the year when he accused Pakistan of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies & deceit”.
The new blow came as Mattis, who had an opportunity to authorise the said $300 million in CSF funds through this summer — if he saw concrete Pakistani actions to go after insurgents — chose not to do so, despite some US officials having held out the possibility that Islamabad could win back that support if it changed its behaviour.
“Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed,” Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner, the Pentagon spokesperson, said, adding that the money could be spent on “other urgent priorities” if approved by US Congress.
Faulkner said another $500 million in CSF was stripped by the Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, which brings the total withheld funds to $800 million.
However, a Pakistani official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was unaware of a formal notification of the US decision on assistance but said one was expected by the end of September.
The same day, Qureshi said the US administration had not cut off any aid to Pakistan; instead, it had announced to end the CSF that the country has already spent against terrorism.
The US-Pak ties are currently suspended, he noted, adding that it was hoped a discussion would be conducted in an amicable manner to strengthen the bilateral relations.
However, a Pentagon spokesperson had said Monday the suspension of security assistance was announced in January 2018 and the CSF was a part of it.
Speaking exclusively to media, the spokesperson had said: “This is not a new decision or a new announcement but an acknowledgement of a July request to reprogramme funds before they expire.
“The suspension of security assistance to Pakistan was announced in January 2018. The Coalition Support Fund [CSF] is part of the security aid that was scrapped and its suspension remains in place,” he asserted.
Commenting on how some CSF details had been “distorted” in the media coverage, the spokesperson explained that “several things were taken out of context in the reports”.
“We continue to press Pakistan to indiscriminately target all terrorist groups, including the Haqqani Network and we continue to call on the country to arrest, expel or bring the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table,” the spokesperson added.
The Trump administration has persistently alleged that Pakistan was granting safe haven to insurgents who are waging a 17-year-old war in neighbouring Afghanistan, a charge Pakistan denies.
“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” Trump had tweeted at the start of this year.
“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more,” he warned.
Islamabad, however, has maintained that it has indiscriminately carried out operations against all terrorists, including the Haqqani network, and that the proof lay in the Operation Zarb-e-Azb carried out in Waziristan.
Earlier, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director-General Major General Asif Ghafoor had talked of how Pakistan never fought for money, but for peace, and that the Army had indiscriminately targeted terrorists at a “heavy cost of blood and treasure”.