Karachi, Pakistan – Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said his country hoped for greater engagement with the new US government and called on Joe Biden to follow the ongoing Afghan peace process and the withdrawal of US troops from the country.
Direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, against which the United States has waged an almost 20-year war, continue in the Qatari capital, Doha, but progress remains slow.
There has been an increase in violence in recent weeks, with an upsurge in targeted attacks and bombings across the country for which the Afghan government has blamed the Taliban.
Pakistan has facilitated intra-Afghan talks and the US-Taliban dialogue and has now called on the US to stick to the agreements.
“I think they (the Biden administration) should realize that there is an opportunity in Afghanistan and that they should persevere with what has been initiated and not turn things around,” Qureshi told Al Thursday. Jazeera.
“Keep them moving, because after a long time we started to move in the right direction.”
Former US President Donald Trump accelerated a troop withdrawal schedule agreed with the Taliban in February last year, as the Biden administration arrives with 2,500 US troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
Under last year’s landmark deal, all U.S. troops are to leave Afghanistan by April, but the Pentagon recently hinted it could delay that if the violence doesn’t abate.
“We are worried because we believe that violence can vitiate the climate,” Qureshi added.
“Pakistan has done a lot, we have really bent backwards to create an environment conducive to the peace process,” he said, while accusing the “spoilers” of the violence, identifying them as internal Afghan actors “Who benefited from the war economy”. and alleging that “there are external elements which do not share our vision, namely a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan”.
“It’s a shared responsibility at the outset, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the Afghan leadership. It is their country, it is their future.
‘Convergence of interests’
Biden will not only inherit a delicate endgame in America’s longest war, but also a relationship with the nuclear-weapon Pakistan that fell to new lows during its previous stint in power. .
Under former US President Barack Obama, when Biden was vice president, US-Pakistan relations were marked by bitter complaints about the war in Afghanistan and frequent US accusations that Pakistan supported the Taliban and its ally, the Haqqani network.
In 2018, Trump cut security aid to Pakistan by $ 1.1 billion for the same allegations, accusing Islamabad for giving the United States “nothing but lies and deception”.
Relations began to heat up when the Trump administration entered into direct negotiations with the Taliban – led primarily by US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad – in a process facilitated by Pakistan.
“They should be supporting what, in my opinion, is a convergence of interests,” Qureshi said.
“Our approach, our thinking, our objectives and our shared visions are very much in line with the priorities of the new administration. And this convergence can be strengthened. “
In a confirmation hearing in the US Senate on Tuesday, Lloyd Austin, candidate for Biden’s Defense Secretary, called Pakistan a “key partner” for peace in Afghanistan.
Relations with China are not a zero-sum game
Qureshi also called on the United States not to view Pakistan’s close ties to China – an economic and political rival of the United States – as a “zero-sum game”.
“They need to understand that our relationship with China is not a zero-sum game for them,” he said, noting China’s $ 60 billion investment in the China Economic Corridor. -Pakistan.
“They (the United States) should come and compete and invest.”
He added that Pakistan was ready to play the role of mediator between China and the United States, a role it played in 1972 when it facilitated talks to organize a historic visit to Beijing by the president of the United States. time, Richard Nixon.
“Pakistan has traditionally had this opportunity and built bridges between the two. In this environment, where there is a change… Pakistan can be a bridge builder. “