Pakistan and the United States have decided to give reset in ties another shot after the positive initial engagement on Wednesday resulted in an understanding between the Trump administration and the new Pakistani government on delivering on each other’s expectations.
The positivity shown by the two sides after their meeting deeply contrasted the clouds of negativity under which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Islamabad.
Mr Pompeo, who was accompanied by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph Dunford, stayed in Islamabad for nearly five hours during which he met Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa.
The US delegation also held a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan. FM Qureshi, the army chief, ISI director general Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar and other senior officials also attended the meeting.
At the meeting, PM Khan said he was hopeful of finding a new way forward with Washington. “A sportsman always is an optimist,” said the former cricketer, who captained Pakistan to World Cup victory in 1992, according to a pool report. “He steps on the field and he thinks he’s going to win.”
However, the inclusion of newly appointed US adviser on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been hostile towards Pakistan and is also unacceptable to Taliban, in the Secretary Pompeo-led delegation raises questions about US seriousness about reaching a political settlement in Afghanistan.
The visit came in the backdrop of the recent row over the readout of the phone conversation between PM Khan and Secretary Pompeo and the US announcement about the reprogramming of the remaining $300 million reimbursement under Coalition Support Fund.
Speaking to journalists at the Foreign Office after Secretary Pompeo’s departure for New Delhi, Foreign Minister Qureshi said: “Today’s meetings set the stage for a reset. And the stalemate, which has been weighing down the relationship, has been overcome”.
He said the meetings were “productive” for “understanding each other’s point of view” and “chalking out the future course”. During the meeting, he said, the Pakistani side “understood their wishes” and presented its “expectations and concerns” in an amicable manner.
Mr Qureshi and Mr Pompeo will now meet in Washington later this month when the former travels to the US to attend the UN General Assembly session. Mr Pompeo invited Mr Qureshi for the visit. The invitation notwithstanding, Secretary Pompeo and Gen Dunford made no secret that military-to-military relationship would provide the actual basis for forward movement.
Speaking to journalists at the Nur Khan Airbase before his departure, Secretary Pompeo also gave a positive impression about his meetings. He said: “I’m hopeful that the foundation that we laid today will set the conditions for continued success as we start to move forward.
“We made clear to them that — and they agreed — it’s time for us to begin to deliver on our joint commitments, right. So we’ve had lots of times where we’ve talked and made agreements, but we haven’t been able to actually execute those. And so there was broad agreement between myself and Foreign Minister Qureshi, as well as with the prime minister, that we need to begin to do things that will begin to actually, on the ground, deliver outcomes so that we can begin to build confidence and trust between the two countries. That was the focus of the gathering.”
Gen Dunford said Secretary Pompeo visited Islamabad to “reset the relationship” and after the meetings he could say that “the objectives were very consistent between the Secretary and the prime minister, and General Bajwa”. He said military relations would be leveraged “to support the Secretary and the prime minister, and more importantly, President Trump’s South Asia strategy”.
Mr Pompeo, too, concurred with Gen Dunford on military ties acting as a prop for taking the planned rapprochement forward. He hoped that military-to-military ties, which had withstood the challenges in the cyclic relationship, could be used as “one of the foundational elements as well”.