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Pakistan PM heads to US for talks with Obama on Afghan peace

Islamabad :Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrives in the US tomorrow and is likely to face pressure to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, days after Washington said it was delaying its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

US President Barack Obama last week reversed a pledge to pull troops out as he admitted Afghan forces were not ready to stand alone against the resurgent Islamists, who briefly captured a key northern city this month.

The US sees Pakistan as one of the few sources of influence over the extremists, and analysts say Washington will use the four-day trip to urge Sharif to keep pushing for a new round of talks.

“The US has two objectives behind this visit,” said Pakistan political analyst Hassan Askari.

“The first is to put pressure on Pakistan to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table and the second is to persuade Pakistan to discourage the activities of the Afghan Taliban within Pakistan.”

Washington’s relationship with Islamabad is a prickly one, born of a fraught inter-dependency but pollinated by mutual mistrust.

Pakistan was once the Taliban’s main sponsor and its chief protector, but nominally switched sides after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

However, US officials suspect the organisation still receives succour from elements in Pakistan, including the nation’s powerful spy agency.

That charge is repeated by Kabul, which accuses Islamabad of harbouring and nurturing Taliban insurgents—allowing them to launch attacks in Afghanistan before melting back across the border.

Under pressure from the US, which has previously tied millions of dollars of aid to Pakistan’s commitment to tackling militancy, Islamabad last year launched a military offensive in its northwestern tribal areas, where the insurgents had previously operated with impunity.