As coincidences go, it could not get much better than this. To have Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Kabul peace and reconciliation, in town a mere day after the Centre announced that it would, in fact, be approaching the IMF for a much-needed bailout package. Two years ago, Mr Khalilzad called for Pakistan to be designated a state-sponsor of terrorism. That he was handpicked by Trump Town to stress this country’s crucial role in leading the Taliban to the negotiating table suggests that Islamabad may well be in for a rough ride. For it was also around the same time that he endorsed the US strategy of isolating Pakistan; going as far as to call for this to be on the scale of North Korea. While admitting that Washington was pressing for a delay in the then scheduled IMF package as part of a broader design to suspend all assistance here. In order to make the “generals understand the consequences of continued support for extremist and terrorist groups”. That being said, at least there will be no surprises. Washington’s policy of isolation has not succeeded despite its best efforts. This is good news all round. For a Pakistan with its back up against the wall is no one’s interests. Especially those both at home and abroad who remain committed to stemming radicalisation. After all, it is no secret that anti-American sentiment in the country, to a certain extent, traverses the class divide to include segments of the liberal elite. Thereby debunking long-held and falsely-constructed stereotypes. Of course, if Khalilzad were entirely serious about a result-oriented push for peace — he would have arranged a one-on-one meeting with the Taliban. For it makes more sense to talk directly to the latter than push and cajole other parties to drag them to the table. Thus it might have been more pragmatic to have similarly held discussions with Moscow given how the Russians had persuaded the group to attend a peace conference scheduled for last month. That is, before Kabul rejected the move on the grounds that only bilateral engagement between the government and these non-state actors would be palatable. All of which suggests that the US is somewhat on the back-foot. Though by continuing to outsource all responsibility to Pakistan alone vis-à-vis Taliban peace talks — Washington may be counting on being able to turn around and accuse this country of undue interference in the internal affairs of its western neighbour. A more practical approach would have seen “King Zal” also reach out to the Chinese. For, whether the Americans like it or not, the reality is that Moscow and Beijing are regional players. And a stable Af-Pak security paradigm is in both their interests. Instead, the special envoy is prioritising talks with the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. What is clear is that 17 years into the war in Afghanistan and the US is still peddling a ‘tired-and-tested’ formula. One that continues to scapegoat Pakistan. Thus it now remains up to the Imran Khan government to make overtures to the Taliban conditional upon an agreement from the White House to green-light one-on-one talks with the group. For as the military occupying power, it remains responsible for Af-Pak security. Not least because of the question of Kabul safe-havens that threaten this side of the Durand Line. And this time around the US will have to listen. After all, this is a now multilateral issue. * Published in Daily Times, October 10th 2018.