Thu, Sep 06, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Pompeo seeking Pakistan ‘reset’

PEACE AMBASSADOR:Former envoy to Kabul, Baghdad and the UN Zalmay Khalilzad has been appointed to lead peace efforts in Afghanistan, the US secretary of state said

AFP, ISLAMABAD

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday landed in Islamabad to meet new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, saying he was hoping to “reset the relationship” with Pakistan that has worsened in the past few months.

The conciliatory remarks by Pompeo, whose flight touched down just before 1pm, came days after Washington confirmed plans to cancel US$300 million in military aid to Pakistan.

The former CIA director — making his first visit as top US diplomat to the ally whose support is vital in the Afghan conflict — said it was time to “turn the page.”

“So first stop — Pakistan,” he said, speaking on an airplane ahead of his trip to South Asia.

“New leader there, wanted to get out there at the beginning of his time in an effort to reset the relationship between the two countries,” Pompeo said.

“There are lot of challenges between our two nations, for sure, but we’re hopeful that with the new leadership that we can find common ground and we can begin to work on some of our shared problems together,” added Pompeo, who is to be joined by US General Joe Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

US officials accuse Islamabad of ignoring or even collaborating with groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, which attack Afghanistan from safe havens along the border between the two nations.

The White House believes that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency and other military bodies have long helped fund and arm the Taliban for ideological reasons, and to counter rising Indian influence in Afghanistan.

It believes that a Pakistani crackdown on the militants could be pivotal in deciding the outcome of the war in Afghanistan.

Pompeo suggested that the election of Khan, who has vowed to seek better relations with the US, could provide a fresh impetus.

“Look, I think there is a new government this time, most of this took place long before the prime minister was in power, and I hope we can turn the page and begin to make progress, but there are real expectations,” he said.

“I’m hopeful we can convince them to provide that assistance,” Pompeo said, adding that in his conversations with Khan, they had agreed that peace in Afghanistan was a “shared goal.”

Pompeo also held out the possibility that military aid could be restored under the right circumstances.

“We were providing these resources when it made sense for the United States, because the partnership was in a place where the actions of our two countries made sense to do that,” he said. “If that arises again, I’m confident we’ll present to the [US] president the rationale for that.”

Pompeo said he would also meet Pakistan’s powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, as well as Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

The remarks represent a shift in tone toward Pakistan and Khan, a former playboy cricketer who came to office in July amid concerns that he would remain tolerant of terror groups.

At the time of the vote, the US noted what it called “flaws” in Pakistan’s pre-electoral process, but said it was nonetheless ready to work with the new government.

Pompeo also confirmed that Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad and the UN, would be appointed to lead peace efforts in Afghanistan.

“Ambassador Khalilzad is going to join the State Department team to assist us in the reconciliation effort, so he will come on and be the State Department’s lead person for that purpose,” he said.

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