Pentagon chief wants to ‘improve’ Pak-US ties

Defence Secretary Austin confers with Gen Bajwa on Afghan situation on eve of key Doha meeting


New Desk August 10, 2021

LAHORE:

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by the telephone with Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, on the eve of a meeting of the ‘Extended Troika’ in the Qatari capital.

According to a press release issued by the Pentagon, Austin and Gen Bajwa had a telephonic conversation to discuss “mutual goals of security and stability in the region”. The two sides also discussed bilateral defence relationship, it added.

The call comes at a time when the Afghan Taliban are advancing across the country, seizing seven provincial capitals within days, while President Joe Biden standing firm on the pullout of the US and NATO troops from the country by the end of this month.

During the call, the two sides discussed the bilateral defence relationship and Austin expressed “interest in continuing to improve the US-Pakistan relationship” and building upon multiple shared interests in the region, the Pentagon said.

The call comes ahead of a meeting of the top diplomats from Pakistan, the United States, Russia and China in Doha. Pakistan’s Special Representatives for Afghanistan Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq and Pakistan’s Ambassador to Kabul Mansoor Ahmed Khan will attend the talks.

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The Extended Troika as it is called will discuss the current Afghan situation on Wednesday (today) as Taliban make rapid inroads, capturing 7 provincial capitals in a matter of few days. It is expected that Pakistan will push for urgent steps to prevent further deterioration in the Afghan situation.

“Pakistan attaches high importance to the Troika-Plus mechanism, involving Pakistan, US, Russia and China. This meeting of Troika-Plus in Doha is taking place at an important time when the security situation in Afghanistan is continuously deteriorating particularly as the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from the country continues,” a Foreign Office statement said.

“Pakistan hopes that the meetings in Doha would help facilitate resumption of Intra-Afghan negotiations with a view to achieving a political solution for a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan, at peace with itself and with its neighbours,” it added.

The Troika-Plus has been meeting regularly in recent months in order to evolve a consensus on the Afghan endgame. Pakistan believes that at present it is the most “potent and relevant” international forum on Afghanistan since all key stakeholders are part of it.

A senior official here said Pakistan was attending the meeting with a message for all the stakeholders, calling for urgent steps to prevent further unrest in the country. For this purpose, the official said Pakistan would request all sides to show flexibility and move quickly for the political settlement.

“The situation is changing with every passing hour, therefore, it is important that all sides, including the Taliban and Afghan government show flexibility,” the official said while requesting anonymity.

Pakistan is worried that the brewing tension in Afghanistan would have huge implications for its neighbours. Islamabad is also concerned that Pakistan is being made scapegoat for others’ failures.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news conference on Monday that Pakistan could not be held responsible if the Afghan national defence forces were capitulating and melting down in the face of Taliban’s onslaught.

 

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