US secretary of state Rex Tillerson on Tuesday delivered a blunt message to Pakistan to increase its efforts to eradicate terrorists operating from its soil, even as he called on Islamabad to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan.
Tillerson, the first high-ranking US official to travel to Pakistan after President Donald Trump unveiled his new strategy for South Asia in August, got a frosty welcome after Washington turned up the heat on Islamabad for providing safe havens to militant groups.
During a meeting with the top civil and military leadership, Tillerson “reiterated President Trump’s message that Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within the country”, according to a statement from the US embassy.
Besides Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the meeting was attended by army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa, Inter-Services Intelligence head Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar, foreign minister Khawaja Asif and interior minister Ahsan Iqbal.
Outlining the new strategy for South Asia, Tillerson referred to the “vital role” Pakistan could play in working with the “US and others to facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan that can bring stability and security to the region”.
Pakistan and the US, he said, have common interests in “a stable, peaceful Afghanistan, defeating ISIS in South Asia, and eliminating terrorist groups” that threaten both countries.
Abbasi reiterated that Pakistan is a “strategic partner” in the war on terror and told Tillerson: “We have produced results. And we are looking forward to moving ahead with the US and building a tremendous relationship.”
Trump has vowed to get tough with Pakistan unless it cracks down on terrorist groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, with US officials threatening further cuts in aid and targeted sanctions. It was widely expected that Tillerson would follow up on these issues in Islamabad.
During a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday, Tillerson said the US has made “some very specific requests” for action by Pakistan to undermine support for the Taliban and other terror groups.
After travelling to Iraq and Afghanistan, Tillerson arrived in Islamabad, from where he flew to New Delhi.
The top US diplomat’s four-hour visit got off to a low-key start as he was quietly greeted by a mid-level Pakistani Foreign Office official at the military airport in Rawalpindi – a welcome devoid of the pomp that usually marks high-level visits.
Pakistani officials had said they didn’t expect much to come out of Tillerson’s visit. A Foreign Office official said the visit would set the tone for future engagement between the two sides on bilateral and regional issues.
The Pakistani media reported that Islamabad has its own grievances, ranging from the Trump administration’s attempts to undermine its sacrifices in the war against terror to giving India a greater role in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, the US campaign appeared to produce some success when Pakistani security forces assisted with the release of an American-Canadian family that was held captive by the Taliban for five years.
Within days of the rescue, US and Afghan forces launched drone and conventional air strikes in Paktia and Khost provinces of Afghanistan. Umar Khalid Khurasani, chief of the banned Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, was reportedly killed in one of those drone strikes.
Tillerson referred to these developments in his meetings in Islamabad and “expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s sacrifices in the fight against terrorism”, the US embassy statement said. He also expressed his gratitude to the Pakistan government and the army for their cooperation in securing the release of the American-Canadian family.
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