US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Friday said Washington had “longstanding relationship” with Pakistan, covering a wide range of issues in an attempt to downplay her remarks in India that she was visiting Islamabad for “specific and narrow” purpose and the US did not seek a “broad relationship” with the country.
Sherman, the first high-ranking US diplomat to visit Pakistan since President Joe Biden took over the White House in January this year, also indicated that President Biden might soon telephone Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Since the Biden administration took charge, the relationship between the two countries has not been moving forward as observers believe that the US priorities may have changed after its exit from Afghanistan.
There is also a view on the Capitol Hill that Pakistan was responsible for the US defeat in Afghanistan, though Islamabad insists it cannot be made scapegoat for other’s failures.
Read more: Pakistan supports an ‘all-inclusive Afghan govt’, COAS tells US diplomat
The apparent chill in the relationship was visible when the American diplomat was received by a lonely mid-ranking Foreign Office official at the entrance of the Foreign Office. Against this backdrop, the visit of No 2 at the US State Department was seen as important as this would determine the future course of action.
Sherman, who flew from New Delhi, held talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
I met today with Pakistani Foreign Minister @SMQureshiPTI to discuss Afghanistan’s future and the important and long-standing U.S.-Pakistan relationship. We look forward to continuing to address pressing regional and global challenges. pic.twitter.com/1tmUAMC18I
— Wendy R. Sherman (@DeputySecState) October 8, 2021
“Our conversations have been forthright, deep and direct,” the visiting American diplomat told a group of journalists at the US embassy before wrapping up her two-day visit. “We discussed the situation in Afghanistan, and what both the United States and Pakistan and indeed, the entire international community expect from the Taliban,” she added.
Also read: Pakistan desires broad-based, sustainable relationship with US: FM Qureshi
During talks with Pakistani authorities, she discussed the importance of holding the Taliban accountable to the commitments they made. “Because it is in all of our interest to have a stable and inclusive Afghanistan that does not serve as a safe harbour for terrorists.”
She said that the Taliban made many public commitments, including, to allow freedom of movement, to form an inclusive government, to uphold human rights, including the rights of women, children and minorities, to allow unhindered access for humanitarian aid and to prevent Afghanistan from once again harbouring terrorists who wished to harm the United States and its allies and partners.
“We will not, however, judge the Taliban on their words, but on their actions. And so far, their actions have fallen far short of those public commitments,” she added.
Official sources said she told Pakistani authorities not to recognise the Taliban government before they fulfil all of the commitments they made to the international community. She made it clear that the US at this point would not recognise a government in Afghanistan, as Secretary Blinken said, legitimacy had to be earned over a period of time and a set of actions.
“And we need to see and understand how the Taliban is going to move forward, what its actual steps are, what its actual plans are, what is actually going to do,” she added.
She said the United States was working with regional and international players, including Russia, China, Pakistan and other countries, to find a common approach on Afghanistan.
Despite her instance that she discussed a wide range of issues with Pakistani authorities it was evident from her statement that focus was on Afghanistan and counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries.
Sherman said that she was visiting Pakistan after Foreign Minister Qureshi during his meeting with Secretary of State Atony Blinken asked for her visit to see the situation on the ground.
Read: US State Dept No 2 in Pakistan for crucial talks
“And so, it was very important to have consultations and a deep discussion with Pakistan, about how Pakistan sees the way forward, what we should expect of the Taliban, how we all should be engaging with the Taliban, and ensuring that there not be terrorism, here in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, or in any country, in the region, or in the world, for that matter,” Sherman said.
“And we have a long counterterrorism relationship with Pakistan. And indeed, we’ll be continuing our counterterrorism dialogue. And so, it’s important that we work together in this changing environment. And it is always the case in diplomacy, where you want to create solutions that are to everyone’s mutual benefit,” she further said.
She particularly mentioned the historic security cooperation between the two countries. “We have a long history of security, cooperation and deep personal relationships between our military leaders. Both of which are a central component of our counterterrorism efforts,” she said.
Hours before she landed in Islamabad, the US deputy secretary of state said she was going to Pakistan with a specific set of reasons and her visit had a narrow purpose. “It’s for a very specific and narrow purpose,” she said, while speaking at the Ananta Aspen Centre in Mumbai.
“We don’t see ourselves building a broad relationship with Pakistan. And we have no interest in returning to the days of hyphenated India, Pakistan. That’s not where we are. That’s not where we’re going to be,” she added.
When her attention was drawn towards the statement, she attempted to play down the remarks by suggesting the US already had longstanding relationship with Pakistan that covers a wide range of issues.
“This particular visit, was to predominantly talk about how we were both approaching the change that’s taking place in Afghanistan, where we also used our dialogues to talk about that longstanding relationship, and the broad set of issues on which we work,” she stressed but refused to offer further comments when asked about her statement that the US did not want to build broad relationship with Pakistan.
She also played down the recent proposed draft bill introduced by Republican senators seeking investigations into Pakistan’s role in the Taliban victory. “We have hundreds of pieces of legislation 1000s of amendments, they get offered all of the time. So, we are watching we understand Pakistan’s concern, and let’s see how things proceed,” she replied when asked about the stance of Biden administration on the proposed legislation.
On the telephone call between President Biden and Prime Minister Imran Khan, Sherman said everyone wanted to talk to the US president. I’m sure it’ll happen sooner rather than later. So, I don’t think anyone should read anything into the timing,” she said.
Meanwhile, a statement issue by the Foreign Office said that Foreign Minister Qureshi and Deputy Secretary Sherman exchanged views on bilateral relations, Afghanistan, and regional peace and stability.
As regards the situation in Afghanistan, the foreign minister stressed that there was a fundamental convergence between Pakistan and the United States on the need for a peaceful settlement. He expressed the hope that the new setup in Afghanistan would make concerted efforts for peace and stability as well as work towards the betterment of the lives of all Afghan people.
Qureshi noted that an inclusive and broad-based political structure, reflecting the ethnic diversity of Afghan society, was essential for Afghanistan’s stability and progress. He also stressed that the current situation required positive engagement of the international community, urgent provision of humanitarian assistance, release of Afghan financial resources, and measures to help build a sustainable economy to alleviate the sufferings of the Afghan people.
In the context of bilateral relations, the foreign minister underlined Pakistan’s commitment to forging a broad-based, long-term and sustainable relationship anchored in economic cooperation, regional connectivity, and peace in the region. He added that a regular and structured dialogue process between Pakistan and US was vital to promote common interests and advance the shared regional objectives.
Highlighting the grave human rights situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, the foreign minister emphasised the importance of peacefully resolving the Jammu and Kashmir dispute for durable peace and stability in South Asia.
The foreign minister also thanked the United States for the Covid-related support extended to Pakistan. Deputy Secretary Sherman conveyed grief and sorrow over the loss of human lives in the earthquake that struck parts of Balochistan on Thursday.
Deputy Secretary Sherman appreciated Pakistan’s support for the evacuation of US citizens and others from Afghanistan, and its continued efforts for peace in the region. She underscored the importance of long-standing relationship between Pakistan and the US.
It was agreed to continue close communication and coordination on the situation in Afghanistan, security and counterterrorism, trade and investment, climate change, economic cooperation, and regional connectivity.
During her meeting with the COAS, she appreciated Pakistan’s role in Afghan situation, especially the assistance in successful evacuation operations and pledged to continue working with Pakistan for regional peace.
According to the Inter-Services Public Relations, matters of mutual interest, regional security situation and collaboration in Humanitarian measures in Afghanistan were discussed.
The COAS said, “Pakistan is committed to making all-out efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan and supports an all-inclusive Afghan government.”
The COAS emphasised on maintaining meaningful bilateral engagement for an enduring multi-domain relationship between the two countries.