WASHINGTON: The US State Department said on Monday that Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts in Fata had reduced the ability of some militant groups to use the area as a base for insurgency in Afghanistan.

This is the first indication in months of a renewed US confidence in Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan and precedes a congressional hearing aimed at highlighting the country’s alleged lack of cooperation with US efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

“Pakistan’s ongoing counterterrorism efforts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) have reduced the ability of some militant groups to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven for terrorism, and as a base of support for the insurgency in Afghanistan,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

Tuesday’s hearing — “Pakistan: a friend or foe?” — is expected to focus on the alleged presence of the Haqqani network in Fata and on the group’s efforts to destabilise the Kabul government. The State Department’s statement, however, could help refute the claim — at least to some extent — that Pakistan had allowed the Haqqanis to use Fata as a launching pad for operations inside Afghanistan.

In his statement, shared with Dawn, Mr Kirby also welcomed Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s remarks on July 6, emphasising Pakistan’s commitment to defeating terrorism and not to discriminate between the so-called good and bad Taliban while conducting those operations.

In these remarks, “Gen Sharif directed Pakistani military commanders, intelligence agencies, and law-enforcement agencies to take concrete measures to deny any militant group safe haven or the use of Pakistani soil to launch terrorist attacks in Afghanistan”, Mr Kirby noted.

“We believe Pakistan is committed to taking action against militant and terrorist groups that operate from its territory,” he added.

Mr Kirby said that “Gen Sharif’s renewed commitment to countering violent extremism in Pakistan is important in the light of President Obama’s decision to revise the US force posture in Afghanistan”.

Last month, President Obama allowed US forces in Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda and Taliban militants and also to use air strikes at militant targets. Earlier this week, he also announced his plan to leave 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan until the end of his term, further slowing the drawdown in a 14-year war that Mr Obama pledged to end on his watch.

The United States has close to 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and Mr Obama had earlier announced reduction of that number to 5,500 by early 2017.

“All countries in the region must work to end safe havens for militants and terrorists to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the region more broadly,” said Mr Kirby while acknowledging Pakistan’s determination to fight terrorism.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2016

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