Pakistan's foreign minister called on the the United States to restore good relations and military aid and stop blaming Islamabad for militant attacks on Afghanistan, even as he pledged to support negotiations with the Taliban to end the Afghan war.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi visited Washington on October 3 to explain new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's strategy on Afghanistan. The former cricket star has long advocated negotiating with the Taliban and other Islamist insurgents rather than taking military action.
A month after Washington cut $300 million in military aid, Qureshi said he found U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "ready to listen" to Pakistan and that he was returning to Islamabad "slightly more hopeful" than before about improving relations and seeing the funds restored.
Qureshi said Pakistan was calling for renewed cooperation with the United States. "Cutting off training, not giving precision equipment that could have been used against terrorism -- I don't know to what extent that will help" the United States in its fight against the Taliban, he said.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump slashed military assistance to Pakistan this year, saying it had not done enough to eliminate safe harbors for the Afghan Taliban and related militants within its borders.
Qureshi said Pakistan "cannot and should not be held responsible for the failures in Afghanistan," where the government, despite extensive backing from the United States and NATO, has made little headway in its 17-year war against the Taliban. He pointed to what he said was disunity and corruption in Kabul.
Moreover, he said, "I think it's unfair not to recognize the contributions Pakistan has made to the successes that you've had in Afghanistan -- and you've had successes despite the challenges."
Pakistan was the main supporter of the Taliban when it imposed an austere brand of Islam on Afghanistan before the U.S.-led military campaign that ousted it from power in 2002.
The United States claims that the Taliban and other militant groups still maintained links to Pakistan's military and intelligence services -- something Islamabad has repeatedly denied.
Washington has at times sought to exploit Pakistan's supposed ties to the Taliban by urging Islamabad to convince its allies to join negotiations with the Afghan government to end the war.
Qureshi said Pakistan would act "in good faith" to jump-start diplomacy with the Taliban.
"Pakistan is willing and Pakistan will use all its influence to do that. We feel that Afghanistan's stability and peace are linked to ours," Qureshi said at the U.S. Institute of Peace after meeting Pompeo.
But he added, "Contrary to the largely held view here, our influence on the Taliban is diminished."
He said he believes that a subtle shift in Taliban tactics this year -- agreeing to a temporary cease-fire and meeting secretly with a U.S. representative in Qatar in July even while waging a bloody war on the ground -- was the result of the militants' own calculations.
"Even the Taliban recognize that things have changed in Afghanistan. They can at best maintain a stalemate, but those days are gone when they will just go in and take over Kabul."
Qureshi said it would help if the new U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, was "more sensitive to opinion in Pakistan" in his new role than he has been in the past, when Qureshi said he made statements that were not "to put it mildly, very friendly to Pakistan."
Pompeo, who met Khan in Islamabad last month, told Qureshi that Pakistan had an "important role" to play in Afghan talks, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
Pompeo "agreed that there was momentum to advance the Afghan peace process, and that the Afghan Taliban should seize the opportunity for dialogue," she said.