Khawaja Asif In United States: Agenda is to highlight Pakistan's commitment to counter terrorism, seek role in Afghanistan

After repeated accusations by the US and President Donald Trump that Pakistan shelters terrorists, foreign minister Khawaja Asif reached Washington DC on Thursday in a bid to improve and possibly rebuild frayed ties with the US. The foreign minister held talks with the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday and will meet top leadership of the Trump administration.

Asif, who is in the US for three days, has a tough job ahead of him. His visit comes less than a fortnight after US vice-president Mike Pence met Pakistan prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session. The visit indicates a gradual resumption of talks between the two countries that was paused by an upset Pakistan after Trump announced his South Asia policy.

What will be Asif's agenda?

With concerns in Islamabad that Washington is tilting towards New Delhi and repeated warnings by the US for nurturing terrorist groups, Asif's priority will likely be to convince the Donald Trump administration that Pakistan does not harbour terrorists.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with Pakistan foreign minister Khawaja Asif. AP

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with Pakistan foreign minister Khawaja Asif. AP

Trump has warned that US will take action within Pakistan if it did not stop backing terrorists battling American forces. He accused Islamabad of sheltering "the same organisations that try every single day to kill our people".

"We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the very terrorists we are fighting. But that will have to change and that will change immediately."

Trump has also been mulling cutting all military aid to Pakistan because the president thinks US is being ripped off by Pakistan, a US official told Foreign Policy. The Pentagon has already frozen support to Islamabad under the coalition support fund, which provides payments to Pakistan for supporting counter-terrorism operations.

In the wake of such strict warnings by the Trump administration, Asif's main agenda is likely to be able to assuage the fears of Washington regarding providing asylum to terrorists and prove that Islamabad is a key ally in fighting terrorism.

According to the Foreign Office statement reported by The Express Tribune, Asif told Tillerson that incidents of terrorism in Pakistan have seen a sharp decline, which has been made possible because of Islamabad's pursued zero-tolerance approach in its campaign against terrorists.

The second task that the foreign minister has up his sleeve is to get a more significant role for Pakistan in the new Afghanistan policy.

Trump unveiled the new Afghanistan policy in August this year and called on India to help more while adding, "critical part of the South Asia strategy for America was to further develop its strategic partnership with India — the world's largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the US."

After meeting Tillerson on Wednesday, Asif convinced the US administration of its importance in South Asia (at least verbally). He told Tillerson that Pakistan is winning its war against terrorism, Pakistan's embassy said. Asif conveyed to Tillerson about the strong public reaction in Pakistan to the US policy based on inadequate recognition of Pakistan’s sterling contribution in the fight against terrorism. He emphasised that Pakistan and the US shared a common desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region at large, according to The Express Tribune report.

The US secretary of state acknowledged that Washington has a partner in Islamabad, while saying that Pakistan is critical for the long-term stability of South Asia.

"Not just Afghanistan, but it is the importance of Pakistan and Pakistan's long-term stability as well," he remarked. He further expressed concerns over the stability of the Pakistani government.

Another important work that Asif is expected to finish is to draw the US away from India. Instead of having Washington focus on what Pakistan is doing, Asif may try to divert their attention to the "atrocities" that India is committing in Kashmir.

The foreign minister said on Wednesday that "America should take notice of grass human rights violations by India in Occupied Kashmir," Samaa TV reported. He said peace in South Asia would remain out of reach until resolution of all the longstanding disputes, including the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir.

The trip as a top US General said Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI has connections with terrorist groups and runs its own foreign policy. While Pakistan has continued to deny this allegations and accusations of giving sanctuary to terrorists, US is considering ways to punish Pakistan. According to The Times of India, the US has banned operations of Habib bank, Pakistan's leading financial institution. It might also strip Pakistan of the status of non-NATO ally and impose travel ban on suspected ISI personnel.

Asif's aim is to reverse these moves, try to improve relations with Washington and dissociate US from India.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Oct 05, 2017 10:40 AM

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