The U.S. and Pakistan are discussing the role the Asian nation, striving to rebuild an economy devastated by floods, can play in reconciliation talks between neighboring Afghanistan and the Taliban.
U.S. and Pakistani officials, led by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, are conducting three days of strategic talks in Washington on a range of issues, including ways Pakistan can do more in the fight against militants. It is the third such session by the two countries since March.
“We have assured Pakistan that it has an appropriate role to play in resolving the situation in Afghanistan,” State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said yesterday. “We will discuss within the strategic dialogue this week ways in which Pakistan can be part of this broader effort.”
Pakistan will help Afghan President Hamid Karzai “wherever and however” in his tentative talks with Taliban militants, Qureshi said last week. Reconciliation talks between the Taliban and the government in Afghanistan are a key part of the U.S. strategy to bring peace to that country after nine years of war.
U.S. support for integrating the Taliban into the government depends on the militants’ willingness to end violence, renounce terrorism and accept the Afghan constitution, with its guarantees of women’s rights.
President Barack Obama, who is visiting India in November, will travel to Pakistan next year, according to a White House statement yesterday. Obama has invited Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari to visit the U.S., Qureshi said.
U.S. and Pakistani defense officials will also discuss this week how to increase Pakistan’s military contributions in the fight against militants on its borders with Afghanistan. “Clearly, while we’ve seen aggressive action by the Pakistani military in recent months, more has to be done,” Crowley said.
“There is no wavering in Pakistan’s resolve to fight extremism and terrorism, as our nation has suffered the most at hands of the scourge,” Qureshi said yesterday at the Brookings Institution, a policy research center in Washington. “We have stated that fighting terrorism remains a strategic and moral imperative.”
The U.S. is planning a security package totaling as much as $2 billion to help Pakistan fight extremists on the border with Afghanistan, CNN reported on its website, citing unidentified diplomatic officials. The package will address Pakistan’s concerns that it lacks the capability to pursue terrorists, CNN said.
Crowley said Pakistani officials have met with Afghan officials to discuss taking part in reconciliation talks. Asked about reports that Pakistan’s intelligence services may be trying to disrupt talks between Pakistan and the Taliban, he said, “We do not want to see efforts by any entity to prevent political reconciliation. This is a fundamental part of our strategy.”
The discussions to bring Taliban members into the government don’t involve Americans, Crowley said. The U.S. has “some knowledge of what’s going on” and has helped facilitate meetings between members of the Taliban and Afghan leaders, he said.
The U.S. has “complete confidence that the Afghan government shares our view that any group that seeks reconciliation must renounce violence, cut any ties to al-Qaeda and support the Afghan constitution, which enshrines fundamental rights for men and women in Afghanistan,” Crowley said.
The meetings with Pakistan involve 13 groups focusing on a variety of issues, including water, agriculture, communications and security.
The primary focus of this round of talks will be examining the response to recent floods in Pakistan, said Frank Ruggiero, the U.S. deputy special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The floods, which covered an area as large as Italy, killed 1,800 people and affected 20 million, Ruggiero said.
”Let me be clear: we do not seek dependence but economic viability,” Qureshi said.
The groups will also appraise the implementation of an aid pledge Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made in July. Clinton announced $500 million in new aid programs, most of which went to improve the management of, access to and storage of water. Other projects included boosting food exports, opening credits for small to medium-sized businesses and fighting infectious diseases.
The defense working group within the U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue is set to meet this afternoon, Crowley said.
“We’ll have more to say about deliverables” later in the week, he said in response to questions about further aid packages for Pakistan.
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