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Top US official hold talks with Pak officials ahead of IMF team's visit

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By Sajjad Hussain (Eds: Updating with more inputs)

Islamabad, Nov 6 (PTI) A top US State Department official Tuesday held talks with senior Pakistani officials on bilateral, regional issues and the peace process in Afghanistan.

Alice Wells, the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, held delegation-level discussions with Additional Secretary in the Foreign Office Aftab Khokhar and other senior officials and reviewed the progress made on bilateral relations.

Her visit comes a day ahead of the visit by a team of officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to Islamabad to negotiate a bailout package for cash-strapped Pakistan.

"The meeting was related to the progress in promotion of bilateral relations based on mutual trust and respect in wake of the talks earlier held between Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo," Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal said in a statement.

During the meetings, the two sides agreed to continue efforts to promote the shared objectives of peace and stability in the region.

The US has long accused Pakistan of harbouring militant groups and offering safe havens to them to carry out terror attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Ambassador Wells was expected to meet Finance Minister Asad Umar, on the eve of the visit by the IMF team.

Pakistan urgently needs a capital boost to avert a looming balance of payments crisis. Foreign reserves held by the country's central bank dropped below USD 8 billion last month, raising concerns about Islamabad's ability to finance monthly import bills.

The US has cautioned the IMF against a possible fresh bailout for Pakistan's new government to pay off Chinese lenders who have invested in the strategic China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Faisal said that the aim of her visit was to follow up on discussions between Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Washington with a view to further strengthen bilateral relations.

Qureshi and Pompeo had first met in Islamabad and the meeting was encouraging enough to be followed up in Washington when Pakistan's foreign minister attended the UN General Assembly in New York.

Diplomatic sources said that Ambassador Wells would focus on efforts to reset the relations between the two nations.

Earlier, both countries had agreed that the Afghan Taliban should engage in dialogue to reach a political settlement, The News reported.

As part of this, Pakistan released a high-profile Afghan Taliban and former deputy chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Washington's request, the report said.

Baradar was deputy to the late Taliban supreme leader Mullah Muhammad Omar. He was arrested from Karachi in a joint Pakistan-US operation after reports that he was independently trying to conclude a deal with Afghan government.

Relations between Pakistan and the US are under stress due to allegation that Islamabad was not doing enough to curb terrorism and to bring Taliban to the negotiating table.

But lately new efforts have been launched to improve the trust level after Pompeo visited Islamabad in September.

Last month, the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad also visited Pakistan before flying to Doha, Qatar where he reportedly held talks with the Taliban representatives. PTI SH AMS AKJ AKJ

Disclaimer: This story has not been edited by BW staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.

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