ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s top diplomat said Wednesday that his talks with senior Trump administration officials were “useful” and helped “halt the slide” in the crisis-hit bilateral relations.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, however, acknowledged the war in Afghanistan dominated his discussions with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton.
“I have come to the conclusion that my [country’s] bilateral relations with the United States are dependent on the improvement of the situation in Afghanistan,” Qureshi said while delivering a public talk in Washington at the end of his official trip.
“If I go back with this impression that I have been able to halt the slide, to me that would be an achievement,” he said when asked whether he was able to achieve his goal of resetting the ties.
Pompeo pressed the Taliban to come to the table to end the long-running war, as he called on Pakistan to play a supportive role, the State Department said Wednesday in a statement issued after the meeting with the visiting Pakistani foreign minister.
Qureshi told the seminar that the U.S. emphasis on finding a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war is what Pakistan has long called for because military means have failed to end the 17-year-old conflict.
The Pakistani diplomat pledged his country would use “all its influence” with the Taliban to advance an Afghan peace and reconciliation process because peace in Pakistan is linked to stability in Afghanistan.
But Qureshi said promoting a peaceful settlement of the Afghan war was the collective responsibility of all stakeholders in the turmoil-hit country.
“Our influence over the Taliban is diminished. We will do our best and will do it in good faith. Trust us because it is in our own enlightened self-interest to do so,” Qureshi said.
Afghan and U.S. officials have long alleged Taliban sanctuaries on Pakistani soil have enabled the insurgents to sustain and expand their influence in Afghanistan.
Qureshi again rejected those charges, saying Pakistani security forces have dismantled “the safe havens.” Instead, he said, anti-Pakistan “safe havens” that exist today in Afghanistan "under your [U.S] watch” are a concern for his country.
“We cannot and should not be held responsible for the failures in Afghanistan, whether it’s poor governance, corruption or disunity within the Afghan government. They have contributed to the challenges,” he said.
Qureshi noted that despite deterioration in Islamabad’s relations with Washington, ground and air routes through Pakistan remain open and vital for ferrying supplies to U.S.-led international forces stationed in landlocked Afghanistan.
“The continued support that we are giving has not only saved billions of dollars, it has contributed to your success in Afghanistan. Over 500,000 containers went through Pakistan, and cargo was treated as diplomatic cargo,” Qureshi asserted.
The foreign minister visited Washington more than a month after Pakistani cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan took power in Islamabad as the country’s new prime minister.
In his speech Wednesday, Qureshi acknowledged that the recent appointment of veteran U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad as the new envoy for political reconciliation in Afghanistan had raised hackles in Pakistan because of his unfriendly statements in the past.
The former U.S. ambassador in his articles and testimonies as an individual before congressional committees has called on the U.S. to declare Pakistan a terrorist state for harboring Taliban and other insurgent groups.
“I would urge him to be more sensitive to the opinion in Pakistan. Obviously as individuals we can say what we want to, but once you have an official position, then you have to be more restrained and you have to be more sensitive, because then only can you be an honest broker,” Qureshi said.