Pakistan, US top civil and military leaders discuss bilateral ties, regional security

Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa held telephonic talks with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin on bilateral ties. Image Credit: Reuters/file

Islamabad: Pakistan’s top civil and military leaders discussed bilateral cooperation and regional developments and agreed to advance practical collaboration on matters of shared interest.

On Monday night, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin held a phone conversation with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss shared regional interests and objectives.

“Secretary Austin reiterated his appreciation for Pakistan’s support for Afghanistan peace negotiations and expressed his desire to continue to build on the US–Pakistan bilateral relationship,” according to the US Defence Department readout. The two also discussed “regional dynamics and shared interest in security and stability in the region.”

The interaction came soon after the first in-person high-level interaction between the national security advisors of Pakistan and the United States in Geneva, Switzerland, since the Biden administration took office.

Pakistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Moeed Yusuf and his counterpart National Jake Sullivan during their meeting reviewed “a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues of mutual interest and discussed ways to advance practical cooperation” according to the White House statement. Dr Yusuf added that both sides had a positive discussion and “agreed to continue the conversation to advance cooperation in Pak-US bilateral relations.”

Pakistan’s NSA earlier expressed the desire that Islamabad looks forward to building a “truly bilateral relationship” and a new economic partnership with Washington. Dr Yusuf urged the US to look beyond Afghan prism as Pakistan wants a relationship with the US, which is broader in scope, and includes trade and investment. The country’s new vision is to prioritise “development partnerships, not assistance”, he said.

The high-level meetings took place days after Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi held meetings with a group of US lawmakers during his brief visit to New York on May 20 where he stressed that Pakistan was interested in a broad-based, strategic partnership with the US.

Positive development

Experts termed the recent interactions “positive development” between the two countries as part of an understanding on regional development. “The meetings indicate that there is close consultation between Pakistan and the US on bilateral issues as well as on the evolving Afghanistan situation,” Ali Sarwar Naqvi, a former diplomat, told Gulf News. “American administration is fully cognisant of the importance of Pakistan in the region” in the wake of crucial development in Afghanistan. “Pakistan wants to diversify its ties with the US and improve economic cooperation. However, Afghanistan remains a critical area of cooperation until the orderly departure of US troops” said Naqvi, who has served in Washington, Vienna, London, Paris and Brussels during his 36 years in Pakistan’s foreign service.

Commenting on the development, former ambassador Asif Durrani, said the focus of conversation may be on Afghanistan currently due to US troops withdrawal, however, there is wider scope for broadening the partnership since “Pakistan is an important regional country, a nuclear power, and a country at the crossroads of South and Central Asia” adding that the United States is aware of this fact.

No US military base in Pakistan: FO

Meanwhile, Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) has denied the presence of any US military or air base in Pakistan, stating that any speculation is “baseless and irresponsible”. Pakistan FO spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudri clarified: “There is no US military or air base in Pakistan, nor was any such proposal envisaged.” He also added that Pakistan and the US have a framework of cooperation in terms of Air Lines of Communication (ALOC) and Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) in place since 2001. “No new agreement has been made in this regard” he stressed.

The statement was issued after a Pentagon official said that Pakistan had allowed the US military to use its airspace and offered ground access to support US military presence in Afghanistan. American military presence in Afghanistan will end on September 11, 2021, following Biden’s decision to withdraw all US troops.

“Pakistan has played an important role in Afghanistan. They supported the Afghan peace process” said David Helvey, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs. “We will continue our conversations with Pakistan because their support and contribution to the future of Afghanistan, to future peace in Afghanistan, is going to be critical,” he added.