The top American diplomat for South Asia dropped by Islamabad with an unusually heavy agenda. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells flew in from New Delhi on Sunday to discuss issues ranging from a peace deal in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s potential blacklisting by the FATF, and illegal migration. On Monday, Wells told Interior Minister Brig (retd) Ijaz Shah that the US appreciated Pakistan’s efforts to curb illegal migration from Pakistan to the US. She also expressed American interest in further improving checks and balances to curb illegal immigration. Shah noted that Pakistan has also addressed another US concern by allowing international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) to present their arguments before they are denied permission to operate in the country.
Also under discussion, and perhaps the most critical point for Pakistan, was the FATF review meeting in Beijing. While Wells said Pakistan has made “heartening” progress on FATF concerns in a short period of time, blacklisting is still a genuine possibility if the organisation’s conditions are not met. That is, of course, unless the US used its influence to get Pakistan removed from the grey list altogether. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also discussed related issues during his trip to Washington. Some reports suggest that Pakistan has offered to help the US in its dealings with the Taliban and Iran, although most of these reports relied on anonymous sources.
But the US does need help in Afghanistan, where even the Taliban expressed hopes of signing a ceasefire agreement by the end of January. Reuters quoted sources as saying that the Taliban were ready to agree to a 10-day truce with US forces, a reduction in violence with Afghan forces, and to open talks with Afghan officials if a deal is reached. The Afghan government has also spoken with optimism about a potential ceasefire. Pakistan could play into this equation which would be seen as the first step towards a peaceful and sustainable solution to America’s longest-running war. Whether that role is of a mediator, a guarantor, a thumb on the scale, or something else, remains to be seen.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2020.