ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and the United States Tuesday agreed to work as a team to resolve the Afghanistan issue and hold reconciliation talks with the Taliban.

Speaking to US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad here, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said peace in Afghanistan was in the best interest of Pakistan.

Qureshi assured that Pakistan will continue its cooperation with fair intentions for political reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad’s visit came days after US President Donald Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking Islamabad’s support in securing a “negotiated settlement” to the war in Afghanistan.

This comes as Washington steps up efforts to hold peace talks with the Taliban, more than 17 years after the invasion of Afghanistan. In his letter, Trump said a settlement is “his most important regional priority”, the Pakistani foreign ministry stated. “In this regard, he has sought Pakistan’s support and facilitation,” it added.

Qureshi said Prime Minister Imran Khan had welcomed US President Donald Trump’s letter seeking Pakistan’s cooperation for reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Khalilzad briefed the Foreign Minister about the US President’s letter written to Prime Minister Imran Khan for getting Pakistan’s cooperation regarding Afghan reconciliation process. This is the second visit of Zalmay Khalilzad to Pakistan in his current capacity. He earlier visited Islamabad in October.

After the meeting, Qureshi tweeted: “Pakistan will continue to cooperate with sincerity for political settlement in Afghanistan. Long-lasting peace in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s best interest.”

Khalilzad had a separate meeting with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua in which officials from diplomatic, security and defence from both sides were present. “Peace and political settlement in Afghanistan discussed,” Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal later tweeted.

Officials said the US envoy reiterated President Trump’s desire to seek Pakistan’s cooperation for peace and stability in Afghanistan. The foreign minister, the officials said, assured the US side of Pakistan’s steadfast support for a negotiated settlement. Pakistan also promised to help the US for talks with the Taliban, said one official.

Khalilzad, accompanied by an interagency delegation, will travel to Afghanistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar during his 18-day tour, from December 2 to 20.

A state department news release issued before his visit, said: “Special Representative Khalilzad will be in communication with President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and other Afghan stakeholders to coordinate closely on efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with the Afghan government and other Afghans.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a meeting with television anchors and journalists in the federal capital, had said that he received a letter from the US President where he urged Pakistan to play its role in Afghan peace talks.

Trump also sought Pakistan’s assistance in bringing the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table, Prime Minister Khan maintained.

 

Trump’s letter to Imran Khan represented a sea change from Trump’s normally harsh rhetoric towards Pakistan, and will add to growing speculation that the US was planning to pull out of Afghanistan in the near future.

Pakistan recently sought ‘overdue’ payments from the US. Official said the pending payment was around $9 billion on account of the Coalition Support Fund.

In the previous 17 years, the US paid $14 billion on account of CSF. This year, the US confirmed it will cut $300 million in aid to Pakistan over its perceived failure to tackle militant groups.

The so-called CSF was suspended after President Donald Trump tweeted that the US had received nothing but “lies and deceit” in return for $33 billion of financial support to Pakistan since 2002.

The Trump administration alleged Islamabad offered sanctuary to Taliban fighters waging a 17-year war in Afghanistan, a charge Pakistan denied.

Yesterday, US State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino underlined the need for Islamabad to ‘build confidence and trust in bilateral relations’ with Washington.

He added: “The Secretary (of State Mike Pompeo) has emphasised the need for Pakistan to deliver the outcome and build confidence and trust between our two countries, and our policy towards Pakistan is clear.”

Ties between the US and Pakistan have been strained after the Trump hit out at the Pakistan for the alleged lacklustre approach in combating terrorism.

In an interview to the Fox News last month, Trump had said he cancelled assistance worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Pakistan this year because ‘they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us.’ He claimed Bin Laden had lived ‘beautifully in Pakistan and what I guess in what they considered a nice mansion. I don’t know, I’ve seen nicer.’

PM Imran Khan hit back at Trump’s claim, calling upon the president to name an ally that has sacrificed more against militancy. “Pakistan suffered 75,000 casualties in this war and over $123 billion was lost to economy. US ‘aid’ was a miniscule $20 billion,” Khan tweeted.

Trump, however, continued his diatribe against Pakistan and repeated that Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, killed by US Navy SEALs in May 2011, should have been captured much earlier, casting blame on his predecessors and Pakistan. “Of course we should have captured Osama Bin Laden long before we did,” he asserted.

PM Khan replied: “Trump’s false assertions add insult to the injury Pak has suffered in US war on terror in terms of lives lost and destabilised and economic costs. He needs to be informed about historical facts. Pakistan has suffered enough fighting US s war. Now we will do what is best for our people and our interests.”

Trump’s letter to Imran Khan came as a surprise to many after the verbal spat. Officials said the two countries were making efforts to build the confidence level as they move forward.

 

Pakistan, US to work as team on Afghanistan