WASHINGTON: There is an increasing recognition in Pakistan that to defeat the TTP, they must also fight the Afghan Taliban, says a senior US official.

“And that creates an opportunity that we will want to pursue as much as possible,” Ambassador Richard Olson told the Senate Foreign Relation Committee.

In an earlier testimony, Mr Olson had told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the US had held candid discussions with Pakistan on its short-range nuclear weapons and Pakistan was willing to engage with the US on the issue.

“I think there is increasingly a recognition on the part of the government of Pakistan that there is significant bleed over between the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban. This is one of the motivations for their desire to that it is no longer so simple for them as it may have been in the past even if they in principle agree to distinguish between good and bad Taliban,” he said.

Also read: US engaged with Pakistan on tactical N-weapons: Olson

In his second testimony this week, Mr Olson said terror had always been at the centre of dialogue between the two countries, adding that in all discussions US asked Pakistan to take action against the Haqqani network and Taliban.

Mr Olson said that Pakistan had acted in a significant way against its internal terror threats and the US would continue to urge Islamabad to do the same against the Afghan Taliban as well. He noted that Taliban hideouts in North Waziristan had been “largely cleaned and it’s something we have long desired”.

“But they have focused more on TTP than they have on external terrorist actors that has threatened their neighbours, whether Afghanistan or India,” he complained.

Responding to a question, Ambassador Olson said the militant Islamic State group had a larger presence in Nangarhar than in other provinces of Afghanistan. But apparently, they were not receiving directions from the group leaders in Syria or Iraq, he added.

“Our understanding is that these are disaffected Taliban factions and commanders who have switched allegiance,” he said. “That’s not to underestimate the danger that this represents, but it is also to suggest that there is not necessarily a direct linkage and flow of material or fighters from the Middle East to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.”

Responding to another question, Mr Olson acknowledged that the fighting in Afghanistan had increased this year but said it was because of the revelation this summer that Taliban leader Mullah Omar died in 2013. “I think that there was intense competition among various Taliban commanders, which played itself out in part in increased violence,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2015

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