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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Donald Trump seeks Pakistan's help for peace with Afghan Taliban

US president sends letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan just weeks after spat with Islamabad

US President Donald Trump at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires on December 01, 2018. AFP
US President Donald Trump at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires on December 01, 2018. AFP

President Donald Trump has written to Prime Minister Imran Khan asking for Pakistan's help with Afghan peace talks, Pakistani officials said on Monday, just weeks after he accused Islamabad of doing nothing to help the US fight against terrorism despite receiving billions of dollars in aid.

“He has asked for our help to bring the Afghan Taliban on the negotiating table," Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told The National.

Mr Khan suggested he had responded positively to the request. “I have promised Islamabad will make all possible efforts" to help resolve the Afghan conflict, the prime minister told reporters on Monday.

Mr Trump said in his letter that "his most important regional priority was achieving a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war", according to Pakistan's foreign ministry. "In this regard, he has sought Pakistan’s support and facilitation."

President Trump also acknowledged that the war had been costly for both the US and Pakistan. He emphasised that Pakistan and US should explore opportunities to work together and renew the partnership, the foreign ministry said.

“Since Pakistan has always advocated a political settlement to end war in Afghanistan, the US decision is welcomed," it said. "Pakistan reiterates its commitment to play a facilitation role in good faith. Peace and stability in Afghanistan remains a shared responsibility.”

The revelation of President Trump's letter comes as the US special envoy for Afghan Zalmay Khalilzad was expected in Islamabad on Tuesday for his third visit since being appointed in September.

A US Embassy spokesman in Islamabad declined to comment, but a senior Pakistani official who has seen Mr Trump's letter told The National that its contents would be discussed with Mr Khalilzad.

Experts said Mr Trump's letter was a diplomatic victory for Islamabad and a recognition of Pakistan's importance in achieving peace in Afghanistan.

“Pakistan’s rhetoric that others need to do more has worked as eccentric Donald Trump had been forced to realise by his Pentagon that no country better understands the Afghan conundrum than Pakistan,” Qamar Cheema, a political analyst in Islamabad, told The National.

“Pakistan must be engaged in Afghanistan, where the role of other regional actors, specifically India, in peace efforts will be reassessed on Pakistan’s request," he said.

The US has stepped up efforts to resolve 17-year Taliban insurgency through peace talks as the militants carry out increasingly deadly attacks on Afghan security forces and members of the US-led Nato support mission.

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Amid mounting casualties including several US personnel, Mr Trump said in an interview last month that he had cancelled assistance to Pakistan worth hundreds of millions of dollars earlier this year because "they don't do a damn thing for us". He also accused Islamabad of knowing the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before he was killed by US troops in a 2011 raid inside Pakistan.

The remarks triggered an angry Twitter exchange with Mr Khan, who said Washington should not blame Pakistan for its failures in Afghanistan.

US officials believe Pakistan holds influence over the Afghan Taliban after years of supporting the hardline militants and providing them with safe haven. The Taliban seek to restore the strict Sharia they imposed in the country before they were toppled in the 2001 US-led invasion. The group refuses to hold talks with the US-backed government in Kabul, dismissing it as a puppet of the West.

The Taliban's political office in Doha has confirmed holding two rounds of talks with Mr Khalilzad so far. The US envoy last month that he hoped to reach a peace agreement before April next year, when Afghanistan is scheduled to hold a presidential election, but the Taliban rejected his deadline.