PM Shahid Khaqan holds unannounced one on one meeting with US VP M. Pence

WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi met US Vice President Michael Pence on Friday to discuss finding a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, amid a peace offer extended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Although no official announcement was made regarding the unscheduled meeting, sources privy to the developments said the one-on-one meeting took place at the vice president’s residence at the US Naval Observatory.

The meeting that lasted for 30-minute was reportedly held on Pakistan’s request where only Michael Cutrone, special adviser to Vice President Pence for South Asian Affairs, was present as a note-taker.

No US or Pakistani official accompanied the two leaders at this meeting and both sides explained their perspectives on Afghanistan.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi assured Mr Pence of Pakistan’s ‘sincere commitment’ to efforts for peace in Afghanistan and also underlined ‘Pakistan’s successes’ in the war against terrorism, Dawn News reported, citing the sources.

The prime minister also had a 40-minute meeting with Congressman Ted Yoho, chairman of the House Committee on Asia and the Pacific, and its ranking Democrat, Congressman Brad Sherman.

Like their boss, the US lawmakers also focused on the current situation in Afghanistan and expressed ‘their concern about China’s growing influence in Pakistan’, said highly-placed sources.

Moreover, besides discussion on cementing bilateral relations, the two lawmakers conveyed their concern about blasphemy cases against Christians in Pakistan, the sources added.

Political commentators view the Pence-Abbasi meeting as a continuation of their talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York last year.

At that Sept 20 meeting, the two allies, who maintain hot and cold relations sporadically, had resolved to remain engaged and carry forward the relationship.

The Pak-US ties turned sour since the announcement of the US policy for Afghanistan and South Asia in August 2017 with the devasting blow coming out in January as Donald Trump announced the suspension of aid to Pakistan.

Official sources in Washington said that the desire to continue the bilateral relationship was expressed at Abbasi-Pence meeting.

It is noteworthy that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had offered unconditional dialogue with Taliban, offering the latter to open an office in Kabul, last month.

Moreover, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjua has been invited by Afghan counterpart on Saturday (today) where the high-level official would call on NDS chief and Afghan President Ghani to look for ways for durable peace in the war-ravaged Afghanistan.