Despite tensions, US wants Pakistan to play its role in Afghanistan

On March 31, both Pakistan and the United States participated in yet another meeting of the so-called Extended Troika for Afghan­istan, which also includes Russia and China.

All four countries sent their special envoys for Afghanistan to the ancient Chinese city of Tunxi which also hosted the foreign ministers of China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for another meeting.

After the troika meeting, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin, noted that “China, the US, Russia and Pakistan are all countries with significant influence on the Afghan issue,” a key point that also echoed at a US State Department’s latest news briefing.

“These are countries that have a good degree of leverage with the Taliban, and the ‘Extended Troika’ has, in the past, been a constructive forum, and it is critical that the international community remain united in its approach to Afghanistan,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

“It is especially critical with countries that have a good deal of leverage with the Taliban. The United States would be included in that, Russia would be included in that, the People’s Republic of China would be included in that, and Pakistan would be included in that.”

The US official said that it was “incumbent on all of these countries to use that leverage to push the Taliban in the right direction.”

Mr Price said that US interests in Afghanistan “are aligned with the members of the troika,” that includes Pakistan, which has the longest border with Afghanistan and policy makers in Washington believe that Islamabad still has enough leverage on the Taliban to influence their policymaking.

Mr Price also explained how the members of this Extended Troika should use their influence, highlighting two key issues that Washington has been pushing for since August last year when the Taliban captured Kabul: “Seeing girls return to secondary schools and encouraging inclusive governance.”

“We want to see to it that those are messages the Taliban received not only from us, not only from our European partners, with whom we’re coordinating closely on Afghan­istan and engagement with the Taliban, but also from a broader collection of countries, and certainly those countries that do have a good deal of leverage,” Mr Price added.

Acknowledging Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan indicates that Washington still wants to engage with Islamabad on issues where Pakistan can be a useful facilitator.

But diplomatic observers in the US capital no longer see a desire in Washington to revive once-close partnership with the South Asian nation.

Pakistan-US relations have been tense since 2011, when Americans found and took out Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad without informing Islamabad. But the discovery of an alleged letter, explicitly expressing US displeasure with the policies of the PTI government has further eroded the US desire to rebuild ties with Pakistan.

Although the alleged letter, which Wash­ing­ton says it never wrote or sent, says that the relationship could be restored if the PTI government is removed, diplomatic observers do not see that happening anytime soon.

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