ISLAMABAD: The dramatic rescue of an American-Canadian couple by Pakistani security forces last week appears to have had a positive effect on the troubled ties between Islamabad and Washington. Pakistan won rare praise from top US leadership including President Donald Trump for its security forces’ swift action to rescue American Caitlin Coleman and her Canadian husband, along with their children.
But far from this public bonhomie, senior officials from Pakistan and the United States had “intense discussions” on thorny issues last week. In fact, the US delegation, comprising officials from the White House, State Department, and the Defense Department, was in Pakistan on the day the news of the couple’s rescue was officially confirmed by the Pakistan Army.
The interagency US delegation was led by Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for South Asia Lisa Curtis. Other members of the US delegation included acting US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Alice Wells, the acting assistant secretary of defence, and US Ambassador David Hale.
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A senior Pakistani official familiar with the closed-door meeting at the foreign office told The Express Tribune that the talks were “the most frank and candid” between the two sides in recent years.
The agenda was to share each other’s perspective on a range of issues including the recent strategy announced by President Donald Trump for Afghanistan and South Asia.
The official, who requested not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said it was not “one-way traffic”. He explained that the US side presented its views and concerns on a range of issues, while Pakistani authorities also did not mince any words on some of the policies being pursued by the Trump administration.
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The official disclosed that Pakistan conveyed to the United States that its cooperation on Afghanistan would depend on how the Trump Administration “addresses Pakistan’s genuine concerns on the Indian role in Afghanistan.”
The US side was told in clear terms that Pakistan would not extend any cooperation on the issue of Afghanistan if India was given any political role in the war-torn country.
“We have told them in clear terms that this is our red line,” the official added.
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In his new strategy, unveiled in August, President Trump sought a greater economic role for India in Afghan affairs while pointing the finger at Pakistan for not doing enough in the fight against terrorism.
Pakistan has expressed reservations over the new roadmap, insisting that India can only be a spoiler in Afghanistan.
The official said Pakistan had no objection with India’s reconstruction efforts. “But where is India carrying out all of its so-called economic and reconstruction activities,” he asked rhetorically, before noting that most of their ventures were close to the Pakistani border.
Islamabad has longstanding concerns that India is using the Afghan soil to foment violence inside Pakistan.
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The arrest of Indian Navy Commander and RAW agent Kulbushan Jhadav has often been presented as compelling evidence to substantiate that Indian intelligence agencies were involved in subversive activities in Pakistan.
When asked whether the US side gave any assurance to address Pakistan’s concerns, the official replied, “They were apparently receptive to our concerns.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua will represent Pakistan at the meeting of Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) on Afghanistan.
The four-nation talks involving Pakistan, Afghanistan, US and China are taking place in Oman today (Monday) in the latest push to seek an end to the long-running conflict in Afghanistan.
The process was suspended last July after Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansur was killed in a US drone strike in Baluchistan.
The official said the talks agenda was open-ended, but there is not much hope of any breakthrough in Muscat. Unlike the past, Pakistan opted not to issue any statement ahead of the talks.