US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Pakistan Wednesday to hold talks with the country’s new leadership in a bid to reset the strained bilateral ties, days after the Trump administration cancelled USD 300 million in military aid to Islamabad.
This is the US’ first high-level dialogue with Pakistan since the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan assumed office after the July 25 elections.
Pompeo, accompanied by General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. He is also expected to meet Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Pompeo is expected to press Pakistan to target all terror groups on its soil and play a positive role in war-torn Afghanistan when he meets the country’s new leadership in a bid to reset the strained bilateral ties.
The Trump administration has cancelled USD 300 million in military aid to Pakistan as it was not doing enough against terrorist groups inside its borders, the latest controversy to hit Islamabad’s troubled relationship with Washington. Pompeo landed at the Nur Khan Airbase in Islamabad and headed for the US embassy.
Diplomatic sources said that Pompeo will meet Foreign Minister Qureshi, followed by the delegation-level talks between the two sides.
Sources said that the situation in Afghanistan, talks with the Taliban, action against the Haqqani terror network and other militant groups, issue of suspension of US aid and other bilateral and regional issues will be discussed.
The relation between the two “allies” are passing through a difficult period as the US is upset over what it calls lack of cooperation from Islamabad in eliminating militancy in Afghanistan.
The two sides publicly differed over what was discussed between Pompeo and Khan during a telephonic conversation.
Later, the US topped it by cancelling USD 300 million aid which Pakistan said was the money it already spent in the war on terror and Washington was bound to reimburse it as part of understanding between the two sides.
Talking to reporters travelling with him hours before landing in Pakistan, the Secretary of State said: “The rationale for them (Pakistan) not getting the money is very clear. It’s that we haven’t seen the progress that we need to see from them”.
He defended the Trump administration’s decision to cut USD 300 million aid to Pakistan, saying Islamabad did not make satisfactory progress in combatting terrorism.
“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,” Pompeo said.
However, Pompeo said that this was not news for Pakistan. “Look, this wasn’t news to the Pakistanis. It made a lot of headlines over the last few days because of the formality… but they were told this past summer that they weren’t likely to get that money.
“There are real expectations. We need Pakistan to seriously engage to help us get to the reconciliation we need in Afghanistan… They have important interests, security interests in Afghanistan to make sure they get the issues at their border right, and we need their help,” he said.
Pompeo said he wanted to get there at the beginning of Khan’s tenure in an effort to “reset the relationship” between the two countries.
“We have worked closely with the Pakistanis in my role as the CIA director. Our teams have been working together for a long time. There are lots of challenges between our two nations for sure, but we’re hopeful that with the new leadership that we can find common ground and begin to work on some of our shared problems together. They have expressed good-faith intention to do so,” the Secretary of State said.
Qureshi, in one of his media talks, said that what the US was showing was just one side of the picture. “We will show (them) the other side,” he said.
Local media reports said a tough interaction is expected between the two sides as US want decisive action against militants, while Prime Minister Khan promised in his victory speech in July that he was against one-sided relationship with the US.
The Express Tribune reported the “visit is expected to be tense” because “at the heart of the controversy is the longstanding US demand, seeking decisive action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network from Pakistan”.
Dawn reported that “a senior Pakistani diplomat conceded that it would be a mistake to think that Mr Pompeo is coming on a goodwill visit”.
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