Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi shakes hands with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Pakistan, yesterday. Reuters
ISLAMABAD: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad yesterday, in the first high-level US visit to the new government, looking to reset relations strained over the war in Afghanistan.

Tensions between the uneasy allies rose ahead of the visit when the Pentagon confirmed it had made a decision to cancel $300 million (R4.6billion) in military aid to Pakistan.

After greeting Khan in the capital Islamabad, Pompeo said he was “very pleased” with his earlier meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Khan, a cricket legend who swept to power in the July elections, said he was hopeful about resetting relations.

“I’m a born optimist.

"A sportsman always is an optimist. He steps on the field and he thinks he’s going to win,” Khan told reporters.

Pompeo is due next to visit India, Pakistan’s neighbour and bitter foe, where he is expected to pile pressure on New Delhi over its purchases of Iranian oil and Russian missile systems.

With Pakistan’s Khan taking office last month, Pompeo said on the way to the nuclear-armed nation that he wanted “to get out there at the beginning of his time in an effort to reset the relationship”.

On the plane from the US, Pompeo told reporters: “There are a lot of challenges between our two nations for sure, but we’re hopeful that with the new leadership we can find common ground and begin to work on some of our shared problems together.”

Pompeo was also expected to meet Pakistan’s army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, before flying out yesterday

The meetings come against a backdrop of tense ties and US military aid cuts over Islamabad’s alleged reluctance to crack down on militants sheltering on its territory.

Washington has accused Islamabad of turning a blind eye to, or helping, Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network militants who stage attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies doing so.

Pompeo landed in Islamabad min- utes after the plane carrying US Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Ahead of the talks, Dunford said US President Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy set clear expectations for Pakistan, including help to drive the Taliban to a peace process in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The US has withheld $800million in assistance this year, cuts Pakistan says are unwarranted as it incurs expenses in fighting militants who endanger US troops in Afghanistan.

Pompeo is also expected to discuss Pakistan’s possible plans to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ease currency pressures and avert an economic crisis.

In July, Pompeo said there was “no rationale” for the IMF to give money to Pakistan that would then be used to pay off Chinese loans, comments that further rattled Islamabad.

Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis will meet their Indian counterparts today, and are expected to finalise defence pacts. Reuters