Icy Pakistan-US relations still await breakthrough

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – The U.S. and Pakistan on Tuesday held another round of talks to find ways to reduce escalating diplomatic tensions.

Alice Wells, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, arrived in Islamabad on a one-day visit.

Pakistan was represented by Aftab Khoker, additional secretary of the Foreign Office.

This is the fourth visit by Wells, days after Islamabad released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a former deputy chief of the Afghan Taliban, reportedly on Washington's request to revive the long-stalled peace talks.

The U.S. diplomat only met Finance Minister Asad Umar. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi did not meet her — a gesture experts viewed as "discouraging."

Qureshi chose to address a news conference in the capital about the premier's recent visit to China.

“It reflects that there is no improvement or breakthrough vis-à-vis frosty relations between the two sides," Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, a professor of international relations at Islamabad-based Quaid-e-Azam University, told Anadolu Agency.

No joint statement followed the meeting.

"Evolving regional situation and peace and stability in Afghanistan were discussed during the talks," said a standard statement from Pakistan's Foreign Ministry.

Afghanistan has been a bone of contention between the two countries in recent years.

U.S. President Donald Trump's new policy for South Asia accuses Pakistan of patronizing militants.

Pakistan denies the charge and accuses Kabul of allowing militants to use its soil for attacking Pakistani security forces and civilians.

Islamabad has categorically rejected Washington’s reported plans for a broader Indian role in Afghanistan.

Pakistan had brokered a landmark round of direct talks between the fragile Afghan government and the Taliban in Islamabad in July 2015, but the process broke down after the Taliban announced the death of their long-term leader, Mullah Omer, triggering a bitter power struggle within the militant group.

Chances for a resumption of the stalled process dimmed further following the death of Mullah Omer’s successor, Mullah Mansur, in a U.S. drone strike last year in southwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border.

Several attempts aimed at resuming the halted process have been made since July 2015 by a four-nation group made up of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the U.S. and China but they have all ended in failure.