WASHINGTON: In a rare acknowledgement of the difficulties Pakistan faces in combating terrorists in Fata, the US State Department has said that the remoteness of the area and the military’s tactical limitations prevent Islamabad from eliminating all terrorist safe havens.

But at a Tuesday afternoon news briefing, a department spokesman Mark Toner also endorsed Kabul’s claim that the existence of safe havens in Fata allowed terrorists to carry out attacks inside Afghanistan whenever they want.

He urged the Pakistani government to realise that “Afghanistan’s security, Pakistan’s security, indeed India’s security, they’re all interconnected”. The three countries, he said, needed to work together to defeat terrorism.

The comments followed twin suicide blasts near the Afghan parliament on Tuesday that killed scores. Another blast in Kandahar wounded the UAE Ambassador Juma Mohammed Abdullah Al Kaabi and some other diplomats.

Soon after the blasts, a government spokesman in Kabul said that the terrorists were able to strike targets inside Afghanistan whenever they wanted because Pakistan had allowed them to maintain safe havens in Fata, a charge Islamabad rejects as baseless.

“The short answer to your … question is yes,” said Mr Toner when a journalist asked if Washington endorsed Kabul’s allegation.

“We’ve been very frank and very open about publicly saying to Pakistan that it needs to not provide any safe haven to groups that will or are intent on carrying out attacks on Afghanistan.”

Mr Toner, however, said that Pakistan had made “some progress” and had taken “some steps to address these safe havens, but clearly the problem persists”.

That’s why the United States continues to urge Pakistan to act against all terrorist groups without any discrimination and was “willing to help them” do so, he said.

“But given Pakistan’s reluctance to act against these safe havens, do you think there’s need to review the US policy towards Pakistan because it’s not working?” asked a journalist.

“I don’t have anything in that regard to speak to except to say that it is an ongoing issue of concern. It’s something we raise regularly with Pakistan’s leadership,” the spokesman said. “Part of it is, one could argue, the difficulty of going after some of these safe havens given the remote areas that they’re in and providing — or ensuring that the Pakistan military has the capabilities to do so.”

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2017

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