ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and the United States have agreed on a “carrot-and-stick” policy to resolve the Afghanistan issue, The Nation has learnt.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry said the Afghanistan issue was discussed in detail between Pakistan and the US during this week’s talks.

An official said: “It has been decided to negotiate with the [Taliban] militants who are ready to talk and continue the operation against the pro-violence groups.”

He said the US partially supported Pakistan’s suggestion for talks with the warring groups but insisted the flexibility should not be unilateral.

This week, Pakistan and the US returned to the talks’ table after tension rose to unprecedented level, threatening to break the alliance altogether.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ambassador Alice Wells flew to Islamabad to hold talks with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua in a damage-control bid. In the first formal talks after US President Donald Trump’s hostile tweet last month, Wells termed Pakistan’s support critical to the success of the US strategy for Afghanistan. She said Pakistan was an immediate neighbour of Afghanistan and an important country of the region. To this end, Ambassador Wells underlined “the need for strengthening intelligence cooperation between the two sides to improve coordination in counter-terrorism efforts,” said a foreign ministry statement.

The two countries were at loggerheads after President Trump’s controversial tweet in which he announced to suspend aid to Pakistan for allegedly deceiving the US in to the war on terror. Pakistan rejected US allegations that it was not taking action against all the terror networks and also questioned Trump’s claim of giving $33 billion to Pakistan as security assistance.

Islamabad said it had fought the anti-terror war largely from its own resources for the sake of the country’s and global peace. As tension escalated, Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said that Pak-US intelligence sharing and defence cooperation had been suspended. The US denied the claim.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said that Pak-US alliance was “over” after the US “betrayal”. Before Wells’ two-day visit on January 15-16, army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa received a telephone call from the US Central Command chief General Joseph Votel where Bajwa made it clear that Pakistan would not seek resumption of the US security aid.

The army chief, however, assured General Votel that Pakistan would keep supporting all initiatives for peace in Afghanistan despite the tendency to “scapegoat” Pakistan, as peace in Afghanistan was the only way to move towards enduring peace and stability in the region.  Reports said a Taliban delegation from Qatar led by Shahabuddin Dilawar was in Islamabad for talks but there was no official confirmation.

Another official in the foreign ministry told The Nation that Pakistan believed the Afghanistan issue could not be resolved with force and had always advocated talks with the fighting factions. “The US seems inclined to talks with the pro-peace groups but they are not ready to give up the military option. They [the US] have agreed on a carrot-and-stick policy and we are working on that,” he added.

Meanwhile, a US embassy statement on Tuesday said Alice Wells, during her two-day visit, urged Pakistan to address the continuing presence of the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups within its territory.

She underlined that the “US seeks to move toward[s] a new relationship with Pakistan, based on our mutual interest in realising a stable and prosperous region.”

Acknowledging Pakistan’s considerable sacrifices fighting terrorism, Ambassador Wells emphasised the US south Asia strategy represented an opportunity to work together for the establishment of a stable, peaceful Afghanistan, the defeat of the ISIS in south Asia, and the elimination of terrorist groups that threaten both Pakistan and the US, the statement said.