Pakistan's new foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was left red-faced again on Wednesday as for the fourth time since he took office he was forced to attempt a clarification over a terrorism-related matter his country came to be implicated in.
Qureshi not only had to back down and not bring up the $300 million in military aid that the US has moved to cancel, which Qureshi had earlier said wasn't assistance but reimbursement, but he also had to deny that the US asked Pakistan to do more on terror, as local media had been unanimous in reporting.
The Pak foreign minister's attempted clarifications came at the end of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's hours-long visit on Wednesday -- the first high-level on-ground interaction between the US and Pakistan since the Imran Khan government came to power.
The official release of the Pakistan foreign minister's office makes less than a cursory reference to terrorism, not going beyond stating:
"The Foreign Minister highlighted that the priority of the new Government was socio-economic development and, for the success of people-centered agenda and economic reforms, an enabling regional security environment was imperative. Foreign Minister Qureshi reaffirmed that improving relations with neighbours was a priority."
There was no mention of India (apart from 'neighbours'), and on Afghanistan, the following was mentioned:
"He (Qureshi) reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to continue efforts for promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan. The two sides agreed that present conditions in Afghanistan were conducive to intensifying efforts for a political settlement. They underscored the need for the Taliban to seize the opportunity for talks in response to President Ghani’s offer for an unconditional dialogue."
In terms of what Pompeo said, the statement added: "Secretary Pompeo stated that US fully supported the reform agenda of Prime Minister Imran Khan and wished the government success in its implementation. Noting the importance of longstanding Pak-US relationship, Secretary Pompeo conveyed the US desire to work with Pakistan in furthering the shared objectives of peace and stability in Afghanistan."
(A photograph of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's courtesy meeting with Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan. It had been Pompeo, and not US President Trump who had called Imran Khan to congratulate him on becoming Pakistan's Prime Minister)
1. Topmost demand is decisive action against terror group Haqqani network.
2. Second priority is for Pakistan to press Afghan Taliban for negotiations.
3. Pakistan needs to do more against terror groups and designated individuals like Lashkar, Hizbul, Jaish and Hafiz Saeed, Syed Salahuddin etc.
4. US asks Pakistan to hand over Dr. Shakil Afridi.
Since Mike Pompeo's departure for India, where he will participate in the 2+2 dialogue along with US Secretary of Defence James Mattis, Qureshi has gone on a 'spin' overdrive, saying the following:
'The meeting was very good. I represented Pakistan's view with all honesty. Secretary Pompeo has invited me to Washington DC. US has reviewed their policies and they have concluded that a political situation is required in Afghanistan. '
'The US doesn't want to keep its footprint in Pakistan and it's a positive remark. The meeting was held in a cordial manner. The US didn't ask Pakistan to do more on terrorism.'
He also spoke about the $300 million military aid to Pakistan that the US has moved to block, adopting a new line to that which he had taken a few days back when he had claimed that the figure wasn't financial assistance, but was reimbursement owed to Pakistan. He said:
'I contemplated whether I should raise the issue with Pompeo but I decided to not do so. Pakistan is independent. We are capable enough to take care of our people without any aid.'
Qureshi summed up the meeting thusly:
'I never tried to present any rosy picture. We have our differences with the US on many issues. The question is how those issues can be resolved. Today's meeting with the US is an initiative to create an enabling environment.'
However, as per a statement issued by the US Department of State about Pompeo's visit, while speaking about resetting the relationship, he was asked:
"Was there any kind of US warning of increased punitive action that financially sanctions against certain Pakistani individuals delivered during these talks that – if they don’t change their behavior, there’s next steps?"
"We made clear to them that – and they agreed – it’s time for us to begin to deliver on our joint commitments, right. So we’ve had lots of times where we’ve talked and made agreements, but we haven’t been able to actually execute those. And so there was broad agreement between myself and Foreign Minister Qureshi, as well as with the prime minister, that we need to begin to do things that will begin to actually, on the ground, deliver outcomes so that we can begin to build confidence and trust between the two countries. That was the focus of the gathering."