Return to cooperative mode

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Malik Ashraf

THE ties between US and Pakistan which were marked by a chill in the backdrop of President Trump accusing Pakistan of duplicitous behaviour and the rejection of the announced policy on Afghanistan and Asia by the latter, reiterating that the conflict in that war ravaged-country could only be resolved through peaceful negotiations, have surely been reinvigorated as a result of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to US. The return to the cooperative mode between the two countries and the pledge to work together to find a negotiated end to Afghan conflict and to ensure honourable exit for US forces, is a vindication of the stance taken by Pakistan on the issue.
It is noteworthy that in spite of the hostile attitude of the Trump Administration Pakistan continued to promote process of reconciliation in Afghanistan and bringing the US and Taliban face to face with an unruffled commitment through multilateral as well as bilateral channels. The efforts produced positive results leading to a process of dialogue between the Taliban and the US and parleys between the Taliban and stakeholders in peace in Afghanistan. It throughout maintained and endorsed the need for a dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government as it was pivotal to resolving the Afghan issue and ensuring political stability in that country. The developments forced President Trump to change his declared strategy on Afghanistan and recognition of the efforts made by Pakistan to end the Afghan conflict. Peace in Afghanistan has never been so near as it seems now. The US and Taliban have so far held seven rounds of talks and the vibes emanating from these parleys indicate that the US and the Taliban had almost reached an agreement on the schedule of pull out of US troops from Afghanistan and other sticking issues. The proposed dialogue between the Taliban and Afghan government and its success in reaching a consensus on future political arrangement, which is yet to be achieved, is the other most crucial component of the ongoing process. During talks with President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Prime Minister pledged to urge the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government and also indicated the possibility of meeting the Taliban in that regard. President Trump indicated the possibility of giving new direction to the relations between the two countries through more investments and revival of the suspended assistance to Pakistan, making it a point that it would depend on how things worked out, an implied reference to Pakistan’s future role in bringing the Taliban and the Afghan government face to face with each other which leads to the much needed resolution of the Afghan conflict.
State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus talking to the press on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit while terming it a success said, “The meeting, of course, gave the chance to the President and the Secretary of State to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan to build a personal connection and rapport. Now it is time for Washington to build on the success of that meeting. The Prime Minister vowed to urge the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.” As is evident there is much at stake both for the USA and Pakistan to ensure successful dialogue between Taliban and the Afghan government. A good development in this regard is that the Taliban have expressed their readiness to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan whenever invited. Sohail Shaheen, spokesperson of Taliban’s Doha Office told BBC “Pakistan is our neighbouring and Muslim country. We will definitely visit Pakistan if we are given formal invitation.” Hopefully it will occur in the immediate future. The issue of negotiations between Taliban and Afghan government is quite complicated that is why Prime Minister while pledging to urge the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government cautioned that making it to happen was not an easy undertaking.
The visit has successfully recalibrated relations between the two countries and there also have been some discernible positive developments in its aftermath apart from Taliban agreeing to meet the Prime Minister. President Trump will soon be visiting Pakistan as revealed by Prime Miniser Imran in the Cabinet meeting reiterating that Pakistan has been able to present itself on equal terms with Washington. To this effect while speaking at US Institute of Peace he said “We would like to have a relationship based on mutual trust, as equals, as friends and not as before when Pakistan wanted aid and it was asked to perform certain tasks for the US”. Prime Minister’s advocacy of the Pakistani cause and role in resolving the Afghan conflict has already started producing encouraging results other than the above developments. The US has announced technical and logistics support for Pakistan’s F-16s worth $ 125 million while according similar assistance to India for an estimated cost of $670 million, maintaining “it will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”
As revealed by Adviser to PM on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood, the US has also promised to soften travel advisory to Pakistan which was hurting the economy of Pakistan. Its softening will enable Pakistan to initiate business activities with the US. In the aftermath of Prime Minister’s visit Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Development Zulfiqar Bukhari held a meeting with Ivanka Trump, the Advisor to US President Donald Trump. Reportedly, both officials agreed to enhance coordination in diverse fields between the two countries. Ivanka offered support to Pakistan for the empowerment of women and expressed her willingness to initiate several projects in Pakistan for the welfare of women. Hopefully the new direction given to the relations between the two countries would stay on course to their mutual advantage.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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