Hours before landing in Pakistan, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said he hopes to reset the relations between the two countries.
"We hope that both countries could leave the past behind and begin to make progress," Pompeo said while speaking to the media en route to Islamabad.
In what will be the first high-level visit from Washington since the new government assumed office, Pompeo accompanied by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford will land in Islamabad in the afternoon today.
The US secretary of state will meet Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and is also expected to call on Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Jawed Bajwa during his brief stay in the capital.
“We will have three opportunities to walk through the complexity that is this relationship and hopefully begin to make some progress so that we can get back to set of common understandings. So that’s really the very straightforward objective,” the US secretary of state regarding his visit.
Speaking to the media from the airplane, Pompeo also indicated that the Trump administration could release aid to Pakistan that was halted earlier this year.
“Pakistan was told this past summer that they weren’t likely to get that money,” the Secretary said.
Stating that the rationale for Pakistan not getting the money is very clear, he said, “It’s that we haven’t seen the progress that we need to see from them.”
“And the very reason for this trip is to try and articulate what it is our expectation is, the things that they can do, the things that they expect us to do, and see if we can’t find a path forward together,” he upheld.
Further, Pompeo stressed on Pakistan’s assistance and help to resolve issues related to stability in Afghanistan.
“We need Pakistan to seriously engage to help us get to the reconciliation we need in Afghanistan," he said and mentioned General Nicholson and General Miller having the same opinion on the issue.
Pakistanis have “important interests, security interests in Afghanistan to make sure they get the issues at their border right, and we need their help”, Pompeo said.
He was also hopeful that his trip could convince the new government in Pakistan to provide the assistance for reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Pompeo said that the eventual result of working together could mean the aid to Pakistan could revive. “If that arises again, I am confident we’ll present to the US president the rationale for that, and then something like that might make sense,” the US secretary of state said.
Pompeo, Gen Dunford to hold meetings with new govt
Gen Dunford and the US State Secretary are expected to land at the Islamabad International Airport (IIAP) around 3pm, diplomatic sources informed Geo News.
Their arrival is uniquely timed, especially in light of the unbelievably cold US-Pakistan relations, and the Trump administration's on-and-off calls to "do more" and "no more".
While the bilateral linkages have historically had their ups and downs, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Pakistani minister of foreign affairs, commented that Islamabad hopes to take forward the two-way ties in light of the mutual respect.
The Washington duo will hold delegation-level talks at the Foreign Office, after a brief talk with Qureshi, who said both sides look forward to hearing each other's point of views.
It is also likely that Gen Dunford and Pompeo will meet PM Imran and Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, although the meetings have not been confirmed yet on a diplomatic level.
According to US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Pompeo's focus during the meetings with the top brass would be the terrorists in Pakistan and the related war being fought against them.
Despite Pakistan's new leadership, fresh expectations, and experts' belief that the two US officials' arrival in Islamabad would be a good opportunity to improve the ties, fears of relations deteriorating further still remain.
Last Sunday, it was reported that the US, through the Department of Defence and Pentagon, had terminated financial aid worth $300 million over "lack of Pakistani decisive actions".
The so-called Coalition Support Funds (CSF) were part of a broader suspension in aid to Pakistan announced by US President Donald Trump at the start of the year when he accused Pakistan of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies & deceit”.
The new blow came as Mattis, who had an opportunity to authorise the said $300 million in CSF funds through this summer — if he saw concrete Pakistani actions to go after insurgents — chose not to do so, despite some US officials having held out the possibility that Islamabad could win back that support if it changed its behaviour.
“Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed,” Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner, the Pentagon spokesperson, said, adding that the money could be spent on “other urgent priorities” if approved by US Congress.
Faulkner said another $500 million in CSF was stripped by the Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, which brings the total withheld funds to $800 million.
However, a Pakistani official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was unaware of a formal notification of the US decision on assistance but said one was expected by the end of September.
The same day, Qureshi said the US administration had not cut off any aid to Pakistan; instead, it had announced to end the CSF that the country has already spent against terrorism.
The US-Pak ties are currently suspended, he noted, adding that it was hoped a discussion would be conducted in an amicable manner to strengthen the bilateral relations.
However, a Pentagon spokesperson had said Monday the suspension of security assistance was announced in January 2018 and the CSF was a part of it.
Speaking exclusively to Geo.tv, the spokesperson had said: “This is not a new decision or a new announcement but an acknowledgement of a July request to reprogramme funds before they expire.
“The suspension of security assistance to Pakistan was announced in January 2018. The Coalition Support Fund [CSF] is part of the security aid that was scrapped and its suspension remains in place,” he asserted.
Commenting on how some CSF details had been “distorted" in the media coverage, the spokesperson explained that "several things were taken out of context in the reports".
“We continue to press Pakistan to indiscriminately target all terrorist groups, including the Haqqani Network and we continue to call on the country to arrest, expel or bring the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table,” the spokesperson added.
The Trump administration has persistently alleged that Pakistan was granting safe haven to insurgents who are waging a 17-year-old war in neighbouring Afghanistan, a charge Pakistan denies.
"The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools," Trump had tweeted at the start of this year.
"They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more," he warned.
Islamabad, however, has maintained that it has indiscriminately carried out operations against all terrorists, including the Haqqani network, and that the proof lay in the Operation Zarb-e-Azb carried out in Waziristan.
Earlier, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director-General Major General Asif Ghafoor had talked of how Pakistan never fought for money, but for peace, and that the Army had indiscriminately targeted terrorists at a “heavy cost of blood and treasure”.