US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will travel next month to Pakistan and India, bitter rivals that have clashed on the way forward in Afghanistan, the State Department announced Monday.
Sherman, after CIA chief Bill Burns, will be one of the first high-level officials under President Joe Biden to visit Pakistan, which has long irritated the United States over its relationship with the Taliban.
Sherman will meet senior officials in Islamabad on October 7-8 after an earlier visit to New Delhi and Mumbai on October 6-7, when she will meet officials and civil society leaders and address the US-India Business council’s annual “ideas summit,” the State Department said.
The trip comes as India, one of the top allies of the Western-backed Afghan government that collapsed last month, urges the world to pay closer attention to Pakistan’s role in the turmoil.
Pakistan was the primary backer of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime and has been accused by US officials of keeping the insurgents alive through covert support.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in an opinion piece published Monday in The Washington Post, called his country a “convenient scapegoat.”
“In Afghanistan, the lack of legitimacy for an outsider’s protracted war was compounded by a corrupt and inept Afghan government, seen as a puppet regime without credibility, especially by rural Afghans,” he wrote, elaborating on themes in his address Friday to the UN General Assembly.
He urged the world to engage the Taliban government “to ensure peace and stability.”
Prime Minister Khan in Washington Post: "Tragically, instead of facing this reality, the Afghan & Western governments created a convenient scapegoat by blaming Pakistan, wrongly accusing us of providing safe havens to the Taliban and allowing its free movement across our border."
— Mehr Tarar (@MehrTarar) September 27, 2021
Biden, who like his predecessors has sought strong relations with India, has yet to speak to Khan, although Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of UN meetings last week and thanked Islamabad for help in evacuating Americans from Afghanistan.
The State Department said that Sherman will also visit Uzbekistan. The United States has been working with regional nations to ensure it can maintain forces that can strike quickly in response to any threats from extremist movements such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group inside Afghanistan following the US withdrawal.
Sherman will separately hold her latest talks with Russia on Thursday in Geneva.
It will be the second meeting of the so-called Strategic Stability Dialogue set up at a June summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin to reduce tensions and talk through disagreements.
The first meeting in late July focused heavily on arms control, one area where Biden has expressed an eagerness to cooperate with Russia despite concerns on multiple fronts including hacking and Moscow’s alleged support for interference in US elections.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk