–US defence secretary says Pakistan’s fatwa against suicide bombings ‘is a step in the right direction’
WASHINGTON: United States (US) Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has said there have been changes in Pakistan’s behaviour with respect to the fight against terrorism as there are certain operations by the Pakistan military that are helping the US’ ongoing efforts against terrorism and have been for some time.
“There have been changes in Pakistan’s behaviour (since the South Asia strategy was announced),” Mattis told reporters travelling with him to Afghanistan. “There are other issues; the fatwa (against suicide bombings) that came out, that came out of Pakistan, for example. That was a step in the right direction,” he said.
In January, the Pakistan government issued a fatwa signed by more than 1800 Islamic scholars from different schools of thought against the use of violence, including suicide bombings, for religious purposes.
Mattis said that despite the apparent changes in Pakistan, he’d still like to talk to people dealing with the border issues and intelligence and their impression of the situation. “One of the reasons I want to go in is actually talk to the people who are dealing with the border issues right now, dealing with intelligence and what they’re seeing. And then go back and talk with our intelligence agencies in Washington, DC, and put together an assessment of this,” Mattis said.
“There is a number of things that have been going on, but I want to talk to people here and see the reality and how they see it and go back and talk to intelligence agencies and get a full assessment of where we’re at,” he said.
Responding to a question on Taliban, Mattis said the US has to set the conditions where the Taliban realise they cannot win with bombs. “At that point, setting the conditions for the diplomats to sit down, and the leadership to sit down and try to get this out of the violence and into the diplomatic stance,” he said.
Mattis, however, said that while the US tries to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table with the Afghan government, it will still ramp up the military pressure on it. “..you need to have that door open, even as you increase the military pressure and say this is not going to work. You know, to just be setting off bombs,” he said.
The defence secretary said that the US needs to lead and provide the substance for the reconciliation effort. “..it may not be that the whole Taliban comes over in one fell swoop. That would be a bridge too far right now to expect. But there are elements of the Taliban clearly interested in talking to the Afghan government,” Mattis said.
In Kabul, Mattis met with President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, during which they discussed the South Asia strategy and the US’ commitment to Afghanistan. Pentagon’s Chief Spokesperson Dana White said that Mattis praised Ghani’s recent offer to negotiate with the Taliban without preconditions.
“He noted Ghani’s diplomatic approach achieved a level of international support not possible with military action alone. Secretary Mattis offered his full support to the Afghan-led reconciliation process, aimed at achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan,” White said.
At the 2nd Kabul Process Conference on 28 February, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani called on the Taliban to participate in peace talks to “save the country” while offering security and incentives like passports to insurgents who take part in the negotiations.
During the meeting, Mattis emphasised that the peace offer does not eliminate the need for offensive operations against the Taliban, and noted the importance of continued Afghan National Defence and Security Forces progress on the battlefield.
“The two Afghan leaders also reinforced that the recent Taliban peace offer without preconditions was genuine, and they are ready to embrace all who are willing to reconcile,” White said.