ISLAMABAD  -  Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will visit Kabul on September 15 for ‘challenging’ anti-terror talks, officials said.

This will be his first foreign trip as the Foreign Minister at the invitation of his Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that Qureshi was optimistic of positive results during his one-day visit although he believed Afghanistan was a ‘challenging’ subject.

One official said: “We will invite the Afghan leadership to visit Pakistan so that we engage in a dialogue process. The exchange of visits will enhance the trust level. The two countries need each other. Only a few misunderstandings are keeping us divided.”

Last week, the US asked Pakistan to ‘deliver’ and complained that Islamabad had failed to fulfill commitments in the past. However, the two sides agreed to move forward in their relations for peace and prosperity of the region and world, officials said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Islamabad briefly with Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford and others, said at the conclusion of the trip: “We made it 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.” 

Later, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said: “We presented realistic stance of Pakistan with responsibility, seriousness and honourably.” He said the US delegation gave an indication of the willingness to hold direct talks with Taliban. Qureshi said another indication that came out in the meeting was that the US does not want to stay in Afghanistan for long.

Pak-US ties have been frosty for several months. In January, the US suspended security assistance to Pakistan targeting the Coalition Support Fund. State Department said the US was suspending ‘security assistance’ to Pakistan as the trust level between the two countries drastically declined. Washington said Pakistan will be able to receive the suspended funding if it took ‘decisive actions’ against the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban.

Last week, the US cancelled $300 million aid to Pakistan. Another $500 million in Coalition Support Fund was stripped by Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, to bring the total withheld to $800 million.

The US alleges that Pakistan had failed to eradicate the Taliban from its territory. A second allegation is that Pakistan is providing safe havens to Taliban from where they continue their operations.

A third allegation is that US has provided aid to Pakistan in return for support in its “war on terror” but has seen little return on that investment. Pakistan has received $ 33 billion in total over a period of 16 years. Qureshi’s visit is deemed challenging as he will hold a meeting with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. The foreign minister will extend the invitation of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Ghani for Pakistan visit.

Pakistan will reiterate its peace offer to Afghanistan and will stress upon sorting out Afghan issue through negotiations, said another official. He said the talks will focus on the anti-terror war, bilateral cooperation and the peace in the region.

Qureshi had announced to make his maiden foreign visit to Kabul after meeting United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  During the last week’s meeting, matters related to situation in Afghanistan and Afghan peace talks also came under discussion, while war on terror and Pakistan’s role were also discussed.

The Secretary had emphasized the important role Pakistan could play in bringing about a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, and conveyed the need for Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace and stability. He said that peaceful solution to Afghanistan was needed in the interest of Pakistan and the US. Bilateral relations between the countries have been poor, beginning immediately after Pakistan’s independence in August 1947. Afghanistan’s was the sole vote against Pakistan’s admission to the United Nations in 1947 due to Afghan discontent with the permanency of the Durand Line.