Islamabad - Washington back channel diplomacy still unable to reach common ground

Islamabad - Washington back channel diplomacy still unable to reach common ground

ISLAMABAD - Washi­ngton and Islamabad are quietly engaged in diplomacy to address their fast deteriorating relationship.

Foreign Office spokes­man Dr Muhammad Faisal on Thursday disclosed that Pakistan and the United States were engaged in negotiations, which are “ongoing and outside public domain” and that cooperation with the US has remained unaffected despite recent developments.

He did not go into details and only said that no demands were being made from the US in the negotiations.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells this week visited Pakistan during which she renewed the demand for clearing Pakistani territory of alleged terror sanctuaries. Earlier US Centcom chief Gen Joseph Votel had reached out to Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa for calming the frayed nerves at General Headquarters (GHQ).

The information publicly shared by both sides about these interactions created the perception that the second attempt at salvaging the relationship after the US leadership’s rhetoric against Pakistan following the announcement of the new policy on South Asia and Afghanistan was not going well.

This impression was reinforced by Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, who told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that there was no change in the situation because the US was sticking to its position. It should be recalled that the earlier engagement process that started with a meeting between Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and US Vice President Michael Pence on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly ended last month without achieving a breakthrough.

The common ground has, however, remained elusive. At the same time, the bitterness in the tone of the US leadership has increased and more lately the Trump administration has started taking punitive actions against Pakistan suspending the security aid package.

Pakistan has consistently maintained that for meaningfully addressing the terrorism concerns, the US should facilitate the repatriation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and fencing of the Pak-Afghan border.

Responding to a question about Pakistan curtailing intelligence sharing with the US after President Trump’s new tweet and suspension of security assistance, Dr Faisal said: “Cooperation in all areas continues with the US”.

Meanwhile, speaking about the #FreeKarachi campaign in Washington, the spokesman said the government had taken a serious note of this “smearing campaign” in different US cities.

He said the matter had been raised by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua in her meeting with Ms Wells. Pakistan’s embassy in Washington has also been instructed to raise the issue with US authorities to prevent recurrence of such activities.