WASHINGTON: A White House meeting between senior US and Pakistani officials also focused on the Afghan reconciliation process, particularly Pakistan’s role in bringing the Taliban to the table.
During the meeting, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice also “acknowledged Pakistan’s immense sacrifices in the war against terrorism and appreciated its commitment to eliminate this menace,” said a statement issued after the talks.
“Ms Rice deeply appreciated the pivotal role being played by Pakistan in advancing the reconciliation process in Afghanistan,” Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani told Dawn after the meeting.
Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi headed the Pakistani team, which also included Ambassador Jilani, at the meeting.
Early this month, Pakistan hosted the first direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The United States and China participated as observers.
In Washington, US officials called the talks “a step in the right direction and welcomed Pakistan’s involvement.
“Pakistan has also been involved in these, and we certainly appreciate its efforts and involvement,” said a State Department spokesperson, Mark Toner.
But the US appreciation for Pakistan’s efforts became even more obvious during Mr Fatemi’s talks in Washington this week, as US officials mentioned this in almost all the meetings the two sides have had so far.
Deputy Secretary of State Toney Blinken told Mr Fatemi at a meeting this week that the US had noted Pakistan’s positive “role in facilitating the reconciliation process”
But the appreciation went beyond the White House and the State Department and also echoed on Capitol Hill.
Senator John McCain, a senior lawmaker and former Republican presidential candidate, “expressed the desire to work with the government of Pakistan to realise the common objective of defeating terrorism,” said a statement issued after his meeting with Mr Fatemi.
According to those involved in the reconciliation process, all sides, including the Americans, welcomed China’s involvement in the talks.
Contrary to the common perception, it was Afghanistan, not Pakistan, which suggested involving China. In recent years, China has emerged as the largest economic investor in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“China’s presence can assure a neutral setting as both Afghanistan and Pakistan trust it and the Americans too would like Beijing to back the peace process,” said an official aware of the proceedings.
He and other officials said that India too was interested in joining the process but Pakistan insisted on involving only the immediate neighbours. Aware of Pakistan’s strong aversion to any Indian involvement, the Afghans also did not ask for inviting India.
Iran, another immediate neighbour, was also not invited, mainly because it had no clear position on the reconciliation process. But a future involvement of Iran cannot be ruled out.
Two other countries with direct borders with Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, were also kept out.
“The more we add, the more variables we will have and the more difficult it will be to reach a consensus,” said another official aware of the proceedings.
“Involving India too would have derailed the process, given the India-Pakistan rivalry,” he added. “All sides involved in the process are comfortable with each other.”
Both Afghan and Pakistani officials agreed that the US presence in the talks was necessary, as it “would add robustness to the process”.
“A US-owned process will be difficult to disrupt,” said one official.