Tillerson to visit Pakistan next week


WASHINGTON DC: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Islamabad next week during an Asian trip that will also take him to India, a senior official at the US State Department said on Wednesday.

As part of a South Asia strategy unveiled by Trump in August, Tillerson is expected to press Islamabad, which denies aiding the Taliban, to take stronger steps against militants and allied groups and intensify efforts to pressure them to agree to peace talks with Kabul. “We expect Pakistan to take decisive action against militants groups based there that threaten its own people and the broader region,” Tillerson said on Wednesday.

Relations between Pakistan and the United States were on the precipice not long ago, but on October 11, the fragile ties took a dramatic turn when Pakistan successfully rescued an American-Canadian couple. The swift action by the Pakistani security forces after information was provided by US intelligence drew instant applause from President Donald Trump. That event suddenly sparked a sense of optimism from both sides.

On Wednesday, US Vice President Mike Pence spoke to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on the phone to thank him on behalf of the US government for the rescue of the couple. Pence also accepted an invitation to visit Pakistan in the near future.

The flurry of recent US drone and conventional airstrikes targeting TTP and Haqqani network hideouts close to the Pak-Afghan border are part of the new understanding developed by the two countries to eliminate militant groups on either side of the frontier, judging from the tone of background interactions with security and foreign office officials.

For the last few days, the US and Afghan forces have been pounding militant hideouts in Paktia and Khost regions, considered strongholds of the Haqqani network. TTP also has a strong presence in these Afghan provinces, which border Kurram Agency and North Waziristan.

Umar Khalid Khurasani, the chief of the TTP breakaway faction Jamaatul Ahrar, was reportedly killed in one of the drone strikes in Paktia.

The elimination of TTP sanctuaries and its leadership on the Afghan side has been one of Pakistan’s major demands.