ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has responded positively to remarks by U.S. President Donald Trump that he intends to resume the leadership-level contacts between the two countries, partners in the war against terrorism.
“President Trump’s remarks are indeed a departure from his tweet of January 1, 2018. We look forward to positive engagement with the United States at the leadership level," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal told reporters in Islamabad.
Sustained U.S. criticism of Pakistan’s alleged lack of cooperation in fighting regional terrorists kept the traditionally tumultuous mutual relationship under pressure in 2018. An angry New Year tweet from Trump accusing Islamabad of “lies” and “deceit” fueled the tensions, plunging the ties to the lowest ebb.
In a wide-ranging session with the media before his first Cabinet meeting of the year on Wednesday, Trump once again justified his decision to end all hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Pakistan, saying the South Asian ally has not been fair to the United States. The president, however, went on to hint at resetting the troubled ties.
“We do want to have a great relationship with Pakistan but they house the enemy they take care of the enemy we just can’t do that. So, I look forward to meeting with the folks from and the new leadership in Pakistan. We will be doing that in the not too distant future,” said President Trump. He did not elaborate further.
Pakistan denies U.S. allegations it harbors Afghan Taliban leaders and fighters who are waging a deadly insurgency against the U.S.-backed government and international forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Despite tensions in mutual ties with Islamabad, the United States and its NATO allies continue to heavily rely on Pakistani ground and air lines of communications to transport vital supplies to coalition forces in landlocked Afghanistan.
In a television interview and subsequent tweets last November, Trump repeated the allegations, prompting the country’s newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan to hit back at the U.S. president via Twitter.
Khan noted his county had suffered 75,000 casualties since joining the U.S.-war on terrorism 17 years ago and “over $123 billion” was lost to economy. He told Trump Pakistan was no more ready to take further U.S. criticism and pressure to do more.
But to the surprise of many, Trump wrote to Khan in early December and sought his help in facilitating U.S efforts to start peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government for ending the17-year-old Afghan war.
Khan responded positively. Two weeks ago, Pakistan arranged substantial direct peace talks between U.S. and Taliban officials in the United Arab Emirates. The two sides are expected to meet again later this month.
President Trump has since reportedly hinted at pulling out a significant number of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents insist presence of foreign forces in the country is a major hurdle in the way of peace and demand complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Faisal cautioned Thursday an abrupt draw-down of foreign troops could fuel insecurity in the war-shattered country, posing security challenges to immediate neighbors, including Pakistan.
“Currently, efforts are underway towards a political settlement in Afghanistan. Hence, the withdrawal of U.S. troops should be part of a peace process with a view to ensure that there is no power vacuum in Afghanistan,” Faisal said.
Islamabad believes, he added, a peaceful and stable Afghanistan would encourage nearly three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan to return to their native country.