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Better to stay engaged with Pakistan, says US

Updated November 20, 2016

WASHINGTON: Working with Pakistan is a better option for fighting terrorism in South Asia than declaring it a state sponsor of terrorism, says US State Department.

The statement follows a move in the US Congress for declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism because of its alleged links with certain militant groups.

Reports in the US media suggest that the incoming Trump administration is considering proposals to back the congressional move.

The issue was raised at the State Department news briefing on Friday afternoon as well where spokesman John Kirby said that the Obama administration, which would complete its second and final term in January, preferred to stay engaged with Pakistan because it believed this was a better way of fighting terrorism.

“We routinely discuss with our Pakistani counterparts the importance for continued focus and energy on the counterterrorism efforts and the terrorism threat,” he said.

The discussions with Pakistan, Mr Kirby added, focused on the need to combat the groups that were still engaging in terrorist activities. “Our focus on this and the focus that we want to see Pakistan expend on it, that’s not going to change,” he said.

Asked if the Obama administration would support the move in Congress and a signature campaign initiated by American citizens of Indian origin, Mr Kirby said: “I’m not going to get into a discussion about that.”

The State Department official said that while he would not speculate how the Trump administration would deal with the issue, he believed that the US “focus on the importance of regional, collaborative, and effective counterterrorism operations” would not change.

Mr Kirby also emphasised the need for countries in the South Asian region to pool their resources for combating terrorism, saying that the US “interest in seeing all the countries in the region … expend a great deal of energy and effort and leadership” in fighting this menace would not change either.

“I just can’t speculate about the future and I wouldn’t do that,” said the State Department official when asked how President-elect Donald Trump’s pre-election statements would affect his policies as president.

Mr Trump made numerous statements on Pakistan during the campaign but not all were negative and did not necessarily hint at a hostile shift in the US policy towards Islamabad under his administration.

In one statement, Mr Trump also hinted at playing the role of a “mediator or arbitrator” between India and Pakistan. “If it was necessary I would do that. If we could get India and Pakistan getting along, I would be honoured to do that. That would be a tremendous achievement… I think if they wanted me to, I would love to be the mediator or arbitrator,” he said in an interview with the Hindustan Times.

In an earlier statement he said that Pakistan was a vital country for the United States because it had nuclear weapons.

He told Fox News in May he would favour keeping nearly 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan “because it’s adjacent and right next to Pakistan which has nuclear weapons.”

Published in Dawn November 20th, 2016