A telephone conversation between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan has stirred up controversy, with Islamabad calling Washington’s account of the discussion “factually incorrect”.
Pompeo congratulated Khan on Thursday and expressed his willingness to work with the new government to improve bilateral ties between the two countries.
“Secretary Pompeo raised the importance of Pakistan taking decisive action against all terrorists operating in Pakistan and its vital role in promoting the Afghan peace process,” a US State Department readout about the phone call said on Thursday.
But on Friday, Pakistan’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi refuted the US statement, echoing similar objections raised by other Pakistani officials.
“The impression that has been given in their press release, which mentions terrorists operating in Pakistan, is in contrast with reality. And I say this with full confidence,” Qureshi said at a press conference in the capital, Islamabad.
In a Twitter post late on Thursday, Mohammad Faisal, the spokesperson for Pakistan’s foreign ministry, called the Department of State’s press release “factually incorrect” and urged an immediate correction.
The US, meanwhile, has defended its version of the telephone conversation, with State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert saying that “we stand by our readout”.
“They (Pakistan) are an important partner. The secretary had a good call with the new prime minister and we look forward to having a good relationship with them in the future,” she told reporters on Thursday.
The US has long accused Pakistan of providing safe haven to members of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network armed groups, which US and Afghan forces have been fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan for 17 years.
Pakistan denies the allegation, saying it has acted effectively against all armed groups on its territory.
Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party swept last month’s general election, has been a strong critic of the US military policy in Afghanistan.
But the PTI leader has also vowed to have a “mutually beneficial relationship” with Washington.
“Up until now, that [relationship] has been one way,” he said in a speech after winning the election. “The US thinks it gives us aid to fight their war … we want both countries to benefit, we want a balanced relationship.”
Relations between the US and Pakistan have deteriorated since US President Donald Trump‘s administration began taking a hard line on Afghanistan last year.
In his first tweet of the year, Trump said that the US had “foolishly” given Pakistan $33bn in aid over 15 years.
The US government announced earlier this year that it was suspending all security assistance to Pakistan until Islamabad took “decisive action” against armed groups.
Pompeo will visit Pakistan on September 5, Qureshi confirmed on Friday, saying that the “early interaction will prove beneficial”.
“I look forward to Pompeo’s visit and to engage with him for peace and stability and look at areas where both countries stand to gain,” the foreign minister added.