US intensifies outreach to Pakistan as withdrawal from Afghanistan nears

US national security adviser and secretary of defence held talks with Pakistani counterparts

The Biden administration has set September 11 as the deadline to complete its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and is increasing security co-ordination. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt Justin T Updegraff, Operation Resolute Support via AP
The Biden administration has set September 11 as the deadline to complete its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and is increasing security co-ordination. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt Justin T Updegraff, Operation Resolute Support via AP

The US is intensifying outreach to Pakistan as it moves to complete its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by September.

The White House announced on Monday that National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had met his Pakistani counterpart, Moeed Yusuf, at the weekend.

The Sullivan-Yusuf meeting is the most senior in-person encounter between Washington and Islamabad since US President Joe Biden came into office in January.

The two met in Geneva and “discussed a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest and discussed ways to advance practical co-operation. Both sides agreed to continue the conversation,” the White House said.

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin on Monday called Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa for the second time in three weeks.

“I reiterated my appreciation for the US-Pakistan relationship and my desire to continue to work together to further regional security and stability,” Mr Austin tweeted.

The Biden administration has set September 11 as the deadline to complete its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and is increasing security co-ordination with Islamabad as it plans its post-withdrawal posture in the region.

US Central Command said on Tuesday that the withdrawal is going according to schedule and that the military has completed up to 20 per cent of its pullout from America’s longest war.

Last week, David Helvey, assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific affairs, told Congress that Pakistan continues to allow US overflight in its airspace.

“Pakistan has played an important role in Afghanistan. They supported the Afghan peace process. Pakistan also has allowed us to have overflight and access to be able to support our military presence in Afghanistan,” Mr Helvey told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Asked about post-withdrawal plans, Mr Helvey said the process was “ongoing”.

“We’re working to reposition our counter-terrorism capabilities, including by retaining assets in the region.”

While Mr Biden’s plan to withdraw from Afghanistan has been criticised for increasing the risk of an Al Qaeda resurgence and a Taliban takeover in the country, it’s also being met with praise from progressive members of Congress looking to keep the focus on domestic issues.

A total of 23 members of Congress sent a letter to Mr Biden on Friday commending the withdrawal, saying it could save US taxpayers $50 billion.

The group is urging the White House to cut this amount from the US defence budget and spend it to “fund the American people's needs”.

The Pentagon says it has spent about $825bn on operations in Afghanistan.

Updated: May 25, 2021 10:16 PM

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