ISLAMABAD: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit Pakistan today (Wednesday) for crucial but tense talks with the new government against the backdrop of fast deterioration in ties between the two ostensible allies.
Pompeo, who would be accompanied by US Joint Chief of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford, would meet Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
The details of his visit have been kept under wraps, but official sources confirmed that contrary to some reports the Pakistani prime minister would give him an audience.
The visit comes as relationship between the two countries hit a new low after a series of incidents — including the cancelation of $300 million in ‘aid’ to Pakistan and a row over the contents of a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Secretary Pompeo.
The PTI government, however, after initial rhetoric is now treading carefully as Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi avoided giving a knee jerk reaction after the Pentagon move to cancel the amount under the Coalition Support Fund.
Qureshi, nevertheless, reminded the US that the cancelled money was not aid but reimbursements of the expanses Pakistan had already incurred in the fight against terrorism.
The foreign minister admitted that there was near complete breakdown in communication between the two countries during the previous government.
But he said the visit would provide an opportunity for the two sides to “exchange views” and try to improve strained ties.
“Bilateral engagements are almost non-existent, almost in total suspension. So, we need to look as to how to move forward. We will listen to their point of view and place our stance before them,” he told the media on Sunday while reacting to the US aid cancelation.
However, a senior Foreign Office official said there was little hope of any breakthrough during the visit of the secretary of state. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official said had the US been serious in breaking the deadlock, it would not have announced the aid cancelation just on the eve of Pompeo’s trip.
The visit is expected to be tense as Pompeo would not make any public statement or address a news conference during the visit.
But it is the first big test of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s diplomatic skills who, in the past, had taken a populist stance on the relationship with the US.
Imran has always been opposed to the open-ended presence of the US forces in Afghanistan and at the same time viewed the Afghan Taliban insurgency as a legitimate movement against foreign occupation forces.
However, since becoming the prime minister, he did not make any specific statement on the Afghan conflict.
At the heart of the controversy is the longstanding US demand, seeking decisive action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network from Pakistan.
Islamabad, however, insists that it cannot fight the Afghan war on its soil and also suggests that the only way to find a peaceful solution to the conflict is through dialogue.
Washington of late has shown willingness to engage the Taliban for talks and for that it has asked Pakistan to use its influence to bring insurgents to the negotiating table.