ISLAMABAD – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham met with leaders in Pakistan Monday to discuss “a broader” bilateral relationship, with particular focus on economic cooperation and peace-building efforts in Afghanistan, official said.
In his meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Graham, a close ally of U.S. President Donald Trump, hailed Pakistan’s consistent support in the Afghan peace process, Khan’s office said. Officials quoted the U.S. senator as commending Pakistan’s unilateral installation of a fence to secure its long and traditionally porous border with Afghanistan.
While underscoring the importance of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan for his country, Khan reiterated that Pakistan would continue to play its facilitating role in the Afghan peace and reconciliation process.
Graham also visited Pakistan in January, paving the way for a meeting between Khan and Trump at the White House in July.
Senator Graham later traveled to the neighboring city of Rawalpindi and met with Pakistan’s military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, at the army headquarters there. The discussions focused on regional security and the Afghan peace process, said an army spokesman.
Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been marred by mistrust and suspicion. They stem from allegations that leaders and fighters of the Afghan Taliban use sanctuaries on Pakistani soil to orchestrate and sustain insurgent activities in Afghanistan with the covert support of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence, or ISI. Islamabad denies the accusations.
Islamabad maintains close contacts with the Afghan Taliban and takes credit for bringing the insurgents to the negotiating table with the U.S. to help find a political settlement to the Afghan war, which has become America’s longest overseas military engagement.
Taliban leaders’ families reside among nearly three million Afghan refugees Pakistan is still hosting on its soil.
Senator Graham flew to Afghanistan after concluding his meetings in Islamabad. While speaking to reporters in Kabul, he stressed that Pakistan could still do more to accelerate the chance for Afghan peace.
“We all know that if Pakistan applied more pressure on the Taliban it would be enormously helpful to resolving the conflict here” the U.S. senator told reporters in the Afghan capital.
Trump had suspended the U.S.-Taliban dialogue in September and resumed the process a week ago. But the dialogue was again paused by Washington last Thursday after an insurgent attack on the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan that killed two Afghan civilians and wounded scores of others.
The U.S. has been trying to seal a deal with the Taliban that would bind the insurgents to prevent Afghan soil from being used for terrorist attacks against other countries. The proposed deal would also require the Taliban to reduce violence and engage in intra-Afghan negotiations to end decades of hostilities in the country.
In return the U.S. and NATO allies would commit to a phased withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan. The insurgent group wants to conclude a troop drawdown agreement with Washington in the presence of international guarantors before entering into Afghan-Taliban peace talks.