PM may meet Mike Pence on the sidelines of UN General assembly meetings

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi may meet American Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines during the UN General assembly meetings in New York.

The meeting, being dubbed one of the most important engagements of the prime minister on UNGA margins, is likely to take place on Tuesday. The prime minister would also be meeting UN Secretary General António Guterres and a number of other world leaders. Some of those meetings are being planned.

The prime minister, who will be reaching New York on Monday, is scheduled to address the UNGA on Thursday.

Ahead of his meeting with VP Pence, Mr Abbasi has stressed the need for Pakistan and the United States to remain engaged.

Talking to US Ambassador David Hale, who called on him at the PM House, Mr Abbasi said: “It is important for Pakistan and US to stay engaged for pursuing common objectives and other issues of mutual interest.”

Fractious Pakistan-US relations got further strained last month when President Trump unveiled his administration’s policy on Afghanistan and South Asia. The policy lays special emphasis on kinetic operations to subdue Taliban militancy in Afghanistan, envisions greater role for India in Afghanistan and the overall regional security, and has been particularly hawkish on Pakistan accusing it of being an insincere partner in the fight against terrorism.

The new policy, which was seen here as humiliating, disrespectful to Pakistani sacrifices in the fight against terrorism, and indifferent to Islamabad’s security concerns, prompted a re-assessment of ties at the highest level.

The process is yet to complete, but indications from different levels of government point towards an existing consensus that there is no other option, but to stay engaged with US.

Meanwhile, the US has through diplomatic channels extended several explanations on President Trump’s policy.

PM Abbasi’s meeting with VP Pence would be the highest contact between the two sides since the policy was announced on Aug 21. Pakistan had after the policy announcement postponed the then planned bilateral interactions.

A meeting between Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also being scheduled.

The PM Office’s statement noted that Mr Abbasi and Amb Hale in their meeting agreed that “decades-long relations between Pakistan and the US should be further strengthened through multifaceted engagement”.

An official explained that Abbasi-Pence meeting would provide an opportunity for understanding US position and explaining Pakistani stance to the other side.

Defence Minister Khurram Dastagir had in an interaction with media at defence ministry said that US did not share Pakistan’s threat perception because of its strategic compulsions and the differences were getting reflected in regional issues specifically Afghanistan. He suggests a frank and candid dialogue between the two countries to bridge that gap. The biggest challenge in the dialogue, he believes, would be to make US realise Pakistan’s security concerns.

In an another important engagement ahead of his most important overseas trip since assuming office last month, Mr Abbasi met Afghan Ambassador Dr Omar Zakhilwal.

The PM Office said: “The prime minister highlighted Pakistan’s commitment for peace and stability in the region and particularly in Afghanistan and reiterated support for Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process.”

The Afghan envoy told Mr Abbasi that Kabul was committed to furthering bilateral relations.

Despite challenges in their relationship, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US have launched a new trilateral mechanism to counter Daesh threat. A meeting of the trilateral process was hosted by Afghanistan on Thursday where the three pledged to continue the fight against the common threat of terrorism.