- US defence secretary asks Pakistan to act against terrorists along Pak-Afghan border
- Urges Pakistan to redouble efforts to rein in militants
- Says he has come to find ‘common grounds’
ISLAMABAD: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday met Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders and urged them to “redouble” their efforts to rein in militants accused of using the country as a base to carry out attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan.
In a thaw in relations between Pakistan and the United States, both sides agreed to address each other’s concerns, especially in the context of war-torn Afghanistan, and vowed to find “common grounds” to work together for peace and stability in the region.
The US defence secretary had landed at an air force base in Rawalpindi after arriving in Islamabad for a day-long trip — his first visit since taking charge of the Pentagon. He had headed straight to the US embassy after being received by officials from the defence ministry, foreign ministry and US embassy.
The US secretary, during his visit, held separate meetings with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss the relations between the allies.
According to an official statement by the military’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Mattis called on army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at General Headquarters, Rawalpindi, and discussed matters related to the regional security.
“(The) army chief acknowledged the history of the US engagements with Pakistan, especially the ongoing efforts for continuing the positivity for peace in the region. He [Gen Bajwa] said that Pakistan has done much more than its due share despite capacity constraints but [it] shall remain committed for peace as a responsible member of international community,” the ISPR communique said.
The statement quoted General Bajwa as reiterating Pakistan’s support to peace and stability in the region. He also highlighted Pakistan’s concerns emanating from Indian use of Afghan soil, the necessity and right of Afghan refugees for a respectable and early repatriation and the existence of terrorist safe havens across the border in Afghanistan.
“Gen Mattis expressed his respect for Pakistan’s armed forces and the effective operations undertaken against terrorists. He [however] highlighted the concern that a few elements continue to use Pakistan’s territory to further their terrorist agenda in Afghanistan,” the ISPR stated.
Assuring US’ commitment to entertaining Pakistan’s “legitimate concerns”, General (r) Mattis told the army chief it is ready to play its role in the peace process, adding that the aim of his visit is not to make demands but find “common grounds to work together”.
“ [The] COAS appreciated the dignitary’s understanding of the underlying issues and said that Pakistan does not require anything from the US, but understanding. We have eliminated safe havens from Pakistan’s soil but [we still] are prepared to look into the possibility of miscreants exploiting Pakistan’s hospitality to the Afghan Refugees to the detriment of our Afghan brothers,” the ISPR statement said.
Earlier in the day, Mattis called on Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at the Prime Minister’s House, Islamabad. In the meeting, the premier told the visiting US dignitary that there were no safe havens in Pakistan for terrorists and the entire nation was committed to eradicating the menace of terrorism once and for all, in all its forms and manifestations.
Upon arrival at the PM’s House, Mattis was received by the prime minister himself. He was accompanied by senior officials from the US Department of Defence and US Ambassador David Hale.
“Sharing highlights of the recent counter-terrorism operations to improve the law and order situation, PM Abbasi noted that Pakistan, in its national interest, would continue to conduct intelligence-based operations all over the country to consolidate the gains achieved over [various military operation] the last four years,” an official handout issued by the PM’s House said.
The prime minister was assisted by Defence Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal as well as senior officials from the respective ministries.
General (r) Mattis stated that the purpose of his visit was to “find common grounds” in order to create a positive, consistent and long-term relationship with Pakistan.
He emphasised that in view of his long association with Pakistan, he was keenly aware of the sacrifices rendered by Pakistan in the fight against terrorism, besides his personal respect and appreciation for the professional abilities of Pakistan’s armed forces.
The US official reiterated the importance of continuing and deepening cooperation for achieving the common objective— eliminating terrorism from the region.
Recalling the longstanding relationship with the United States, the prime minister underlined the need for a broad-based engagement to strengthen [Pak-US] partnership and enhanced cooperation between the two countries.
Articulating Pakistan’s perspective, PM Abbasi noted that no other country benefits more from peace and stability in Afghanistan than Pakistan.
The premier, while agreeing with the US defence secretary, said both Pakistan and the US have common stakes in securing peace and security in Afghanistan for the stability of the region, as he appreciated the US resolve of not allowing the use of Afghan soil against Pakistan.
Late in the evening, the US embassy issued a statement, saying that Secretary Mattis [in meeting with Pakistani officials] recognised Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war on terror besides recognising the vital role Pakistan can play in order to facilitate the peace process in the region.
He reiterated that Pakistan must redouble its efforts to confront militants and terrorists operating within the country, the US embassy’s statement maintained.
Defence Secretary Mattis is the second highest US official visiting Pakistan soon after the relations between the two ‘strategic partners’ in the war on terror deteriorated in the wake of the strong language used by US President Donald Trump on the eve of the announcement of South Asia policy.
In August, Trump had outlined a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, chastising Pakistan over its alleged support for Afghan militants. But beyond that, the Trump administration has done little to articulate its strategy, experts say.
Before Mattis, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had visited Islamabad but was given cold shoulder by Pakistan. Mattis, like Tillerson, also issued a strong-worded statement before departing for Islamabad, asking Pakistan to “do more”.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has time and again told its Western allies that it was about time they did more for peace and development in the region in general and Afghanistan in specific, as Islamabad had been fighting militancy since long.