US says will try to work with Pakistan ‘one more time’

  • Defence secretary says downgrading status as a major non-NATO ally can be amongst options to deal with Pakistan

WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has said that the United States would try ‘one more time’ to work with Pakistan in Afghanistan before President Donald Trump would turn to options to address alleged support for militant groups.

Relations between the two countries have been frayed over the past decade. While officials have long questioned the role Pakistan has played in Afghanistan, the comments by Mattis are likely to cause concern in Islamabad and within the Pakistan military.

“We need to try ‘one more time’ to make this strategy work with them, by, with and through the Pakistanis, and if our best efforts fail, the president is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary,” he said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Mattis said that he would be travelling to Islamabad soon, but did not give more details.

A British news service first reported that possible Trump administration responses being discussed include expanding US drone strikes and perhaps eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally. When asked by a lawmaker whether revoking Pakistan’s major non-NATO ally status was amongst the options being considered to deal with Islamabad, Mattis said: “I am sure it will be.”

In a separate Senate hearing, the top US military officer said that he believed Pakistan’s main spy agency had ties to militant groups. “It is clear to me that they have connections with terrorist groups,” Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.

In Washington, the Pakistan Embassy said that Islamabad had achieved success in counter-terrorism operations in its country. “However, unless the same level of success is achieved in Afghanistan, long-lasting peace in the region will remain out of reach,” the embassy said in a statement.

In 2012, the United States designated the Haqqani Network as a terrorist outfit. The year before, US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, then the top US military officer, caused a stir when he told Congress that the network was a ‘veritable arm’ of the Pakistani spy agency.

US officials have said that the United States would send about 3,500 additional troops to Afghanistan. They said that the current cost for the US in Afghanistan was about $12.5 billion a year, and the new strategy would cost an additional $1.1 billion.