ISLAMABAD: Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa talked to US Defence Secretary James Mattis by telephone for 20 minutes, said a statement released by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Thursday.

Gen Bajwa congratulated Mr Mattis on assuming the office of US defence secretary and expressed the hope that his vast experience in the field would be of “great value” for the region.

For his part, Secretary Mattis recalled the sacrifices rendered by the people and armed forces of Pakistan in the fight against terrorists and praised their resilience. He also lauded the role the Pakistan Army has played in combating the scourge of terrorism.

Both Gen Bajwa and Mr Mattis reaffirmed their commitment towards the common goal of bringing about peace in the region and discussed measures aimed at achieving that goal.

They also underlined the need for continued engagement at multiple levels between the two countries.

Top US commander in Afghanistan calls for review of ties with Pakistan

Meanwhile, the top US commander in Afghanistan has called for a comprehensive review of Washington’s ties with Islamabad. He also said he needed several thousand more international troops in order to break a stalemate in the long war with Taliban, indicating that the matter might soon be put before President Donald Trump.

Army General John Nicholson, who leads US and international forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged the Taliban gains over the past year, when deployed US forces were reduced even as security deteriorated.

Gen Nicholson said he still had enough US troops to carry out counterterrorism missions against Al Qaeda and other militant targets, but not enough to properly advise Afghan forces on the ground.

“We have a shortfall of a few thousand,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on Thursday. He added those forces could both be drawn from US forces as well as from allies.

Gen Nicholson noted that Mr Mattis would soon speak to allies and suggested that the secretary might visit Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

That could help Mattis prepare his own recommendation to Trump, who has sharply criticised past US administrations for their handling of conflicts in the Muslim world but has also pledged to eradicate Islamist militants around the globe.

Policy on Pakistan

Gen Nicholson called for a “holistic review” of the relationship with Pak­is­tan, echoing longstanding US concerns that the Haqqani network, a militant group, enjoyed “sanctuary in areas in that country along the Afghan border”.

“Our complex relationship with Pakistan is best assessed through a holistic review,” he said, adding that addressing US concerns about Pakistan was at the top of his list of priorities.

The United States has cut both military and economic aid to Pakistan sharply in recent years, reflecting mounting US frustration with the nuclear-armed nation.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2017