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Alice Wells arrived in Islamabad

20 January, 2020

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ISLAMABAD: Alice Wells,  Chief US diplomat for South Asian affairs, arrived in Islamabad on Sunday on a four-day visit, just ahead of the possible peace deal between the US and Afghan Taliban.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells flew from New Delhi, where she held talks with senior Indian officials on a range of issues.

Wells, according to the Foreign Office spokesperson, is scheduled to have a series of meetings with Foreign, Interior and Finance Ministry officials. She will also meet security authorities. The nature of her engagements in Islamabad suggests that the agenda is wide-ranging, covering bilateral issues to regional tensions.

The focus, nevertheless, will be on the imminent peace deal between Afghan Taliban and the US. The Taliban recently indicated that the insurgent group would reduce the level of violence leading to the signing of peace deal. Importantly, the news of truce by Taliban was first shared by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Washington, where he had busy time engaging with senior Trump administration officials as well as US Congressmen.

If the deal is signed by the end of this month, there is a possibility of high-level visit from the US to Islamabad in order to acknowledge Pakistan’s efforts. Ambassador Wells is expected to discuss the possible high-profile visit with her Pakistani interlocutors.

The other key issue that would figure prominently during her talks with Pakistani officials is the current tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi and the situation in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K).

Given that she was in New Delhi before embarking on a tour to Pakistan, Ambassador Wells will likely share her perspective with Pakistan on the issue.

She recently expressed concerns over the continued communications blackout and detention of political leaders by India in the occupied valley.

Pakistan in return for its efforts for facilitating Afghan peace deal wants the US to play a greater role to persuade India to desist from repressive policies in the disputed territory.

Just hours before she landed in the capital, Prime Minister Imran Khan warned that Pakistan could not remain an inactive observer if India continued its ceasefire fire violations across the Line of Control (LoC). He also feared that India could carry out “false flag operation”.

The timing of his statement appears to suggest that he wanted to send a message to the US about the gravity of the situation.

The US, after initial offer of mediation by President Trump, has largely maintained a stated position that Kashmir is a bilateral dispute between Pakistan and India. It is unlikely that the US will change this stance as Trump is expected to undertake a maiden visit to India next month.

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