- US official likely to pressure Pakistan one more time on militant groups
- Pakistan to tell US that only cooperation will get cooperation
- Islamabad will not cooperate if Washington reiterates ‘do more’ mantra
- Expert says US to urge Pakistan to scale back nuclear modernisation, improve ties with India
ISLAMABAD: US Defence Secretary James Mattis on Monday arrived in Pakistan for a one-day visit to hold talks with the country’s key leaders on the new US strategy for South Asia.
The visit is part of Mattis’ trip to three other countries this week, which he is undertaking to “re-affirm the enduring US commitment to partnerships in the Middle East, West Africa and South Asia”, a press release issued by the US Department of Defence said.
According to the statement, Mattis will meet Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa during his day-long trip.
Mattis is likely to ask Pakistan to eliminate the Haqqani Network which, the US claims, still has hideouts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and uses them for launching attacks in Afghanistan.
“We’ll discuss the South Asia strategy,” the secretary told reporters, saying that he had already visited India and Afghanistan and it was a continued dialogue that the United States had for the Afghan peace process.
“The US remains committed to a pragmatic relationship that expands cooperation on shared interests,” the US secretary said while reinforcing President Trump’s call for action against alleged safe havens.
Per reports, Pakistan’s civilian-military leadership will, however, adopt a stance of “only cooperation will get cooperation” during the visit of US Defence Secretary James Mattis to Islamabad on Monday.
A leading English daily reported that Islamabad has devised a policy in which the country’s response will depend on Washington’s actions.
According to the policy, if US adopts parity, Pakistan will also cooperate in a balanced way, but if it continues its policy of demanding “do-more”, then Islamabad will reply “no-do-more and no cooperation”.
As per the coordinated strategy devised by the authorities, no pressure and demand to do-more without any proof or information will be accepted. Pakistan will clarify that there are no militant safe havens or terrorist network on its soil as security institutions have purged the land of terrorists with their operations which will continue till the last terrorist exists.
The government will also make it clear to Mattis that the US should not expect unilateral cooperation from Pakistan. It will not allow any other country to use its soil for operations. If the US provides intelligence-based information about any possible presence of Haqqani group or any terrorist organisation on its soil, Pakistan will review the information and take coordinated operation against them.
The report further stated that Pakistan will ask for proofs if the US defence secretary demanded any action against terrorist networks. If Washington agrees to increase intelligence cooperation, Islamabad will also boost ties with the Trump administration within the limits of its policy of national security.
Moreover, Pakistan intends to tell the US that it supports resolution of the war in Afghanistan through dialogue and will contribute in the process but Islamabad will not tolerate the use of Afghan soil by any country or group for the purpose of destabilising the country.
Pakistan will also express its reservations over the new pro-Modi policy of the Trump administration.
MATTIS TO PRESSURE PAKISTAN ‘ONE MORE TIME’ ON MILITANT GROUPS:
Meanwhile, Pentagon chief James Mattis is expected to pressure Pakistan to end its alleged ties to militant groups when he visits the country as part of a four-nation tour that began Friday.
Ahead of his tour to Pakistan, Mattis on Saturday said that indiscriminate action by Pakistan against terrorist safe havens inside the country are in the regional and Pakistan’s interest, US media reported.
“In Afghanistan, we have heard from Pakistan leaders that they do not support terrorism. So I expect to see that sort of action reflected in their policies,” Mattis said during his visit to Egypt.
The US defence secretarty will meet with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Bajwa and hold discussions regional security, peace, Afghan conflict and other bilateral issues.
Mattis’ trip, which will also include stops in Kuwait and Jordan, comes as the US military shifts its focus in the Middle East, after having largely driven out the Islamic State militant group from its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
Another major priority is Afghanistan, where US generals acknowledge the NATO coalition remains in a stalemate with Taliban insurgents after 16 years of war.
Thousands more US troops are headed to Afghanistan, along with an increase in US airpower, as part of a new White House strategy announced in August.
The plan also involves enlisting the help of neighbouring Pakistan, which the United States has long accused of providing safe haven to the Afghan Taliban, reported VOA.
‘ONE MORE TIME’:
Pakistan denies sheltering the militants, and the issue has served as a major irritant to bilateral ties.
In October, Mattis said the United States would try “one more time” to work with Islamabad before taking “whatever steps are necessary” to address its alleged support for the militants.
US officials have said Pakistan has not changed its behaviour since President Donald Trump in August called out Pakistan for continuing to “harbour criminals and terrorists”.
In response, the Trump administration is considering measures that include expanding US drone strikes in Pakistan or downgrading the country’s status as a major non-NATO ally, according to media reports.
More severe options include declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism or sanctioning individual Pakistani leaders suspected of having ties with the Taliban.
But the Trump administration is not likely to take any kind of punitive action for at least a few weeks, said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia analyst with the Woodrow Wilson Centre, a global policy research group.
“I think it [the administration] wants to give the Pakistanis a bit more time to see if they’re responding to the various demands that the United States made of them when it comes to cracking down on terrorists,” said Kugelman.
One of the likelier US responses, according to Kugelman, is expanding not only the geographic scope of the drone war but also the types of targets the United States goes after.
“I think we could start seeing the US trying to target more Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban targets,” especially in the sparsely populated Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, he said.
The United States has much to lose if ties were to deteriorate. Pakistan controls US military supply routes to landlocked Afghanistan, and could close them down, as it did in 2011. The US would also like Pakistan to scale back its nuclear modernisation, improve ties with India and stay engaged in the broader fight against Islamic militants.
But despite the risks, Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a public policy research group, warns that Washington appears to be running out of patience.
“For many years we were trying to hold out hope that the Pakistanis would change their mind about Afghanistan and our role there,” he said. “But those kinds of hopes aren’t as prevalent anymore. And on balance, therefore, I think we are closer to using some of those tougher methods.”