US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said on Wednesday he was hopeful of finding a common ground for working with the new government in Islamabad in order to improve relations between the US and Pakistan.
Talking to media representatives travelling with him to Pakistan, Pompeo said he was visiting Pakistan to reset bilateral relations.
“First stop Pakistan; a new leader there. I wanted to get out there at the beginning of his [Khan's] time in an effort to reset the relationship between the two countries," he said in his opening statement.
“We have worked closely with the Pakistanis in my role as CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] director. Our teams have been working together for a long time. There are lots of challenges between our two nations for sure, but we’re hopeful that with the new leadership, we can find common ground and begin to work on some of our shared problems together,” he added.
Pompeo, who reaches Islamabad later today, said the new Pakistani government has expressed good-faith intention to improve bilateral ties.
He said he was going to Islamabad with the US military chief Gen Joseph Dunford to have discussions with Pakistani authorities.
“We’ll also meet with General Bajwa, who we both know, who I’ve met with a number of times, as well as my counterpart, Foreign Minister [Shah Mehmood] Qureshi,” he said.
“So we’ll have three opportunities to walk through the complexity that is this relationship and hopefully begin to make some progress so that we can get back to a set of common understandings,” said Pompeo while referring to a possible meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“So, that’s really the very straightforward objective. I think it’s important to meet the new prime minister, Prime Minister Khan, early on in his time in office,” he said.
A journalist reminded the Secretary of State that his trip comes right after the announcement that the US was cutting $300 million in military aid to Pakistan.
“What do you think of that as a start-off point for this new relationship that you’re trying to build?” Pompeo was asked.
“Look, this wasn’t news to the Pakistanis. It made a lot of headlines over the last few days ... but they were told this past summer that they weren’t likely to get that money,” Pompeo recalled.
“And the rationale for them not getting the money is very clear. It’s that we haven’t seen the progress that we need to see from them.”
'Turn the page'
Pompeo said the very reason for this trip was to try and articulate what the US expectation was, what Pakistan could do and the things that they expect the US to do. “And see if we can’t find a path forward together,” he added.
The secretary noted that most of the developments affecting Pak-US relations took place long before Khan was in power. “I’m hoping we can turn the page and begin to make progress. But there are real expectations,” he said.
“We need Pakistan to seriously engage to help us get to the reconciliation we need in Afghanistan.”
Pompeo pointed out that both the outgoing and incoming commanders of US forces in Afghanistan had said that this was not possible without Pakistan’s assistance.
He acknowledged that Pakistan too had important interests, including security interests, in Afghanistan to “make sure they get the issues at their border right, and we need their help”.
He said he was hopeful he could convince the new Pakistani government to provide that assistance because in a recent conversation with him, Prime Minister Khan had acknowledged that peace in Afghanistan was a priority for him as well.
“I think he said they’re the number one or number two advocate for reconciliation in Afghanistan. I said I think we’re number three – all of us wanting that. So we have a shared goal there. I hope we can find a way to achieve it together,” Pompeo said.
He said the US was providing different sets of resources to Pakistan when it made sense for the United States to do so because the partnership was in a place that both countries were coordinating their actions.
“If that arises again, I am confident we will present to the President [Trump] the rationale for that, and then something like that might make sense,” he added.
Asked why it made sense to suspend the assistance now, Pompeo said: “We certainly haven’t seen the progress that we would hope to have seen... certainly not progress that would be sufficient for us to have advocated for turning back on that financial support.”
Responding to another question about whether he will raise the issue of Dr Shakeel Afridi during his trip to Pakistan, Pompeo said: "I have a long history of raising the case of Dr Afridi as the CIA director. I’ll leave it at that."
Pompeo confirmed that Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was with him on the plane and that he was going to join the State Department team to assist him with the reconciliation effort. "So, he will come on and be the State Department’s lead person in the reconciliation talks," he said.
Ambassador Khalilzad, he said, would work with the State Department “to be full-time focused on developing the opportunities to get the Afghans and Taliban to come to a reconciliation. That will be his singular mission statement.”