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Pakistan and The US Are Finally On The Same Page For Peace In Afghanistan

After years of discord over Afghanistan, Pakistan is now cooperating with the US to help pressure the Taliban to strike a peace deal, with the aim of extricating it from its longest war, said The Wall Street Journal in a report.

According to The WSJ, the cooperation – also highlighted by the arrest of Hafiz Saeed – helped pave the way for Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to visit President Trump at the White House next Monday.

And the US officials hope Trump can persuade Pakistan to press the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire and hold direct talks with the Afghan government, Western diplomats say.

“The convergence of Pakistan’s and the US policy on Afghanistan has rekindled hope for resolution of the protracted Afghan conflict,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said Tuesday.

But the militant group continues to attack Afghan and American targets and is now more powerful than any time since the US-led invasion in 2001, controlling or contesting at least half the country.

The WSJ said the US officials are touting the meeting between Trump and Imran as an important moment for both sides, while playing down perceptions that the US is rewarding Pakistan or, as Islamabad wants, broadening bilateral ties beyond the current focus on terrorism issues.

“We recognise that Pakistan has taken steps to encourage Taliban participation in peace negotiations, which has been important to the progress we have made thus far,” said Alice Wells, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, in Congressional testimony in June. “However, there is much more work to be done.”

Trump had denounced Pakistan as a supporter of terrorism, and sought international financial sanctions against it. In November, he Trump tweeted that Pakistan receives billions of dollars in US aid.

Also read: Pakistan Rupee: Dollar Goes High, Shatters All Previous Records

A month later, Trump wrote to the Pakistani leader to seek his help with the Taliban peace talks.

On the other hand, US envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, previously a stern critic of Pakistan, has visited Islamabad eight times since being appointed in September. He received significant assistance from Pakistani authorities in his dealings with the Taliban, say Western diplomats.

“The White House meeting may not quite be a reward for Pakistan, but at the very least, it is a down-payment on a reward,” said Laurel Miller, formerly the acting US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “A US withdrawal from Afghanistan makes the U.S.-Pakistan relationship all the more important.”

The WSJ said Islamabad contends that the Taliban needs to be given a share of political power in Kabul, which could bring peace to neighbouring Afghanistan.

Pakistan has pressured the Taliban to stick with the talks and allowed the group’s senior officials to travel between Pakistan and Qatar. After a US request, Islamabad released from its custody Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a senior Taliban figure who went on to play a key role in the talks.

Mostly importantly, perhaps, Pakistan hasn’t sabotaged the process, Western diplomats said, though some of those diplomats are critical of Pakistan for not doing more to stop Taliban attacks. Dozens of children were among those injured by bombings in recent days.

“On the ground nothing has changed as yet,” said Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan president.

The US officials say they will continue to warn Pakistan if they think it hasn’t done enough to stop jihadist groups, including those focused on India, from operating from the country.

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