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U.S. Defense Secretary, Pakistani Army Chief Discuss Troop Drawdown In Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (file photo)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has discussed with Pakistan’s army chief the regional security situation and the planned withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan later this year.

During the call, Austin and General Qamar Javed Bajwa discussed “regional stability and security,” “the drawdown” in Afghanistan, as well as “the importance of regional stability and the desire for the United States and Pakistan to continue working together on shared goals and objectives in the region,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on April 28.

Austin “reaffirmed the importance of the U.S. – Pakistan bilateral relationship and expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s support for Afghanistan Peace Negotiations,” Kirby said in a statement.

The media wing of Pakistan’s military issued its own readout of the call, which it said touched upon “matters of mutual interest, regional security situation including latest developments in Afghan Peace Process, draw down and bilateral cooperation in various fields.”

The statement by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) quoted Bajwa as saying that Pakistan “will always support ‘Afghan led-Afghan Owned’ Peace Process based on mutual consensus of all stakeholders.”

The Pakistani general also “reiterated that peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan.”

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, four months later than a May 1 deadline agreed to with the Taliban by the previous administration of Donald Trump.

NATO has said it would follow the same timetable for withdrawing the more than 7,000 allied forces.

During a visit to Kabul on April 29, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas assured Afghanistan of continued German support after the withdrawal, saying Germany “remains a reliable partner on the side of the people in Afghanistan."

"To guarantee a good and secure outlook for the Afghans is in our European interest. We want to avoid a relapse to old times at all costs," Maas added.

The impending exit from Afghanistan has prompted concern about the ability of the government security forces to hold territory against the Taliban in the absence of a peace deal.

Intra-Afghan talks between the Western-backed government in Kabul and Taliban representatives in Qatar have been stalled.

Taliban leaders responded to the U.S. pullout plan by refusing to attend a high-level peace conference that was to take place in Turkey this month. Ankara said the conference was postponed and would take place after Ramadan celebrations end in mid-May, but no precise date has been given.

"There is no simple negotiated solution, but the negotiations remain the best chance for a sustainable, secure and stable future for the country," Maas said.

With reporting by dpa