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Fresh round of negotiations with US ends in stalemate

ISLAMABAD: Another round of Pakistan-United States talks aimed at getting Islamabad to fulfil Washing­ton’s expectations, envisioned in its South Asia and Afghanistan policy, ended here on Monday without any breakthrough or breakdown, but new issues have been added to the already heavy and complicated agenda.

A senior official of the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Ambassador Alice Wells visited Islamabad on Monday on a daylong trip for continuing her talks with Pakistani officials on the US list of expectations. Ambassador Wells met Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua at the Foreign Office. This was her second trip in less than a month. She last visited Pakistan from March 28 to April 3.

Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal only tweeted a picture of Ambassador Wells at the FO with the caption: “FS receives Amb Wells for a call at MOFA today.” No press release was issued on the meeting afterwards.

More issues have been added to an already heavy agenda; Alice Wells holds talks with Tehmina Janjua

The US embassy’s statement on the meeting was also unusually very brief. Ambassador Wells “visited Islamabad today for meetings with Foreign Secretary Janjua and other senior officials. In her meetings, she discussed the status of the United States’ South Asia strategy and efforts to make progress on regional security and stability,” the statement read and contained a link to President Trump’s Fort Myers speech in which he unveiled the US Strategy on South Asia and Afghanistan.

The strategy, to quote Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, reflects the intention of the Trump administration “to hold Pakistan accountable for its failure to deny sanctuary to militant proxies” and “encourage(s) restraint in Pakistan’s military nuclear and missile programs, and seek(s) continued, closer alignment of Pakistan’s nonproliferation policies with our own”. The US has been calling on Pakistan to take decisive action against all militant and terrorist groups allegedly based on its territory.

Pakistan, on the other hand, strongly denies the allegation and insists that no organised sanctuary exists on its soil. Moreover, it calls for ending terrorist sanctuaries on the Afghan side of the border from where militants attack it. Islamabad has also been demanding an early repatriation of Afghan refugees.

A diplomatic source said the agenda points of both sides at the meeting at FO were same as before with the addition of two new issues — the restrictions on Pakistani diplomats that would take effect from May 1 and traffic accident involving US defence attaché Col Joseph Hall, who had earlier this month ran a red light killing a motorcyclist. Pakistan has demanded waiver of diplomatic immunity enjoyed by Col Hall so that he could be prosecuted.

“There was no forward movement. But at the same time we must acknowledge that both sides continue to remain engaged in search of the elusive common ground,” the source said.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2018

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