PM heads to US for talks with Obama on Afghan peace

Published: October 19, 2015
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. PHOTO: REUTERS

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. PHOTO: REUTERS

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrives in the US on Tuesday and is likely to face pressure to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, days after Washington said it was delaying its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

US President Barack Obama last week reversed a pledge to pull troops out as he admitted Afghan forces were not ready to stand alone against the militants, who briefly captured a key northern city this month.

The US sees Pakistan as one of the few sources of influence over the extremists, and analysts say Washington will use the four-day trip to urge PM Nawaz to keep pushing for a new round of talks.

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“The US has two objectives behind this visit,” said Pakistan political analyst Hassan Askari.

“The first is to put pressure on Pakistan to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table and the second is to persuade Pakistan to discourage the activities of the Afghan Taliban within Pakistan.”

Washington’s relationship with Islamabad is a prickly one, born of a fraught inter-dependency but pollinated by mutual mistrust.

Pakistan was once the Taliban’s main sponsor and its chief protector, but nominally switched sides after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

However, US officials suspect the organisation still receives succour from elements in Pakistan, including the nation’s powerful spy agency.

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That charge is repeated by Kabul, which accuses Islamabad of harbouring and nurturing Taliban insurgents — allowing them to launch attacks in Afghanistan before melting back across the border.

Under pressure from the US, which has previously tied millions of dollars of aid to Pakistan’s commitment to tackling militancy, Islamabad last year launched a military offensive in its northwestern tribal areas, where the insurgents had previously operated with impunity.

Staunching the flow of blood in Afghanistan’s 14-year war, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives, has taken on greater urgency in recent months.

After years on the back foot, the Taliban scored a stinging victory when they captured the northern city of Kunduz — the first time they have controlled a major urban centre since their 2001 overthrow.

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Afghanistan’s under-par military eventually wrestled it back with the help of US special forces and air support, and at the cost of the American bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital which killed at least 24 patients and staff.

Obama’s about-face on troop withdrawal last week — he has now committed to keeping a 9,800-strong force there through much of next year — crowned a miserable few months, and Washington will be looking to Sharif to help turn things around.

Islamabad brokered the first set of direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in July, but another round was derailed by the revelation of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

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PM Nawaz this month said he was trying to revive peace negotiations.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Pakistan had already played an important role in the talks.

Saying he did not want to speak “for the Pakistani government”, he stated that it was “the president’s view that everybody in the region recognises… the important benefits associated with progress on reconciliation talks”.

That progress could have important financial implications for Pakistan, which has received $4.6 billion in aid from the US under the now expired Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) act since 2009.

Read: US delays troop drawdown in Afghanistan

The US is currently set to give an estimated $794 million to Pakistan in aid in the 2016 fiscal year.

“Pakistan will push more on this side, to get military assistance,” Askari said, adding that Sharif is “likely to succeed”.

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Reader Comments (3)

  • cautious
    Oct 19, 2015 - 8:15PM

    Other than front row seats at public executions – what did Pakistan ever get out of supporting the Taliban when they were in charge of Afghanistan? What distorted view of World politics led Pakistan to believe that there was upside in supporting the Afghan Taliban during the last 14 years? What’s really amazing is that the same people who developed this foolish policy are still running Pakistan.
    Pakistan has tarnished it’s reputation and lost credibility – the ramifications are profound and are one of the reasons Pakistan finds it difficult to gain international traction on issues with India. Being considered untrustworthy/duplicitous is something most countries try to avoid at great cost – why that doesn’t bother Pakistan is beyond me.Recommend

  • observer
    Oct 20, 2015 - 12:38AM

    Another waste of Pakistani taxpayer money.Recommend

  • Sodomite
    Oct 20, 2015 - 9:08AM

    Good for nothing trip by a Good for Nothing PM.Recommend

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