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WASHINGTON: The United States offered on Monday to work closely with Pakistan and other states in the region as tensions on the country’s western borders increase and after its envoy urged Washington to ensure that Afghan soil was not used for launching attacks into Pakistan.

The offer followed a warning by the head of Iran’s armed forces that Tehran would hit bases inside Pakistan if the government did not confront militants who allegedly carry out cross-border attacks.

In Washington, diplomatic sources confirmed to Dawn that Pakistan had conveyed its concerns to the United States over a growing nexus between India and Afghanistan for encouraging cross-border attacks and stirring troubles inside the country.

“The United States looks forward to working closely with Pakistan, and other states in the region, to address critical threats to our shared interests,” a State Department official told Dawn when asked to comment on clashes along the Afghan border and on tensions with Iran.

The US official, however, avoided sharing separate comments on the two situations. Instead, he stressed the need for greater cooperation between the United States and Pakistan “in the fight against terrorism and to advance regional peace, security, and stability”.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary, while talking to Dawn, also stressed this point, saying that “Pakistan wants to work with the US and Afghan governments to help bring peace, which is vital for the whole region”.

He said Pakistan had already made a “commitment not to allow any terrorist to use our soil to commit terrorism anywhere and we are following through on our commitment”.

But Mr Chaudhary also urged the country’s neighbours not to let their territories be used against Pakistan. “It is also our expectation that Afghan soil will not be used against Pakistan,” he said.

“In our interaction with the Afghan and US governments, we have stressed the need to eliminate any sanctuaries that are being used for launching attacks into Pakistan,” he added.

Diplomatic sources, however, said that Pakistan had been “very vocal” in conveying its “congenital security concern” to US officials. The issue was also discussed in the last three meetings with US National Security Adviser Gen H.R. McMaster. The general followed up his visit to Islamabad last month, which was also his first as a member of the Trump cabinet, with two more meetings with Pakistani officials in Washington.

In all these meetings, “Pakistan emphasised that its concerns about the western borders cannot and may not be discounted in any future scenario, or in any tactical or strategic decision making”, said a senior diplomatic source in Washington.

Long-term engagement

The Trump administration is currently working on a new policy for Afghanistan, which may seek a long-term engagement with the country and offer greater military commitment to defeat the Afghan insurgency. Pakistan backs the US objective, but also wants to protect its interests, which include ensuring that Afghan soil is not used for attacks inside the country.

Pakistani officials point out that they have deployed more than 200,000 troops along the Afghan border despite “genuine security concerns” about their eastern border with India.

They argue that “increasing Indian actions” along the Line of Control and the international border would have a negative effect on Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts.

Pakistanis also argue that tensions in the region “cannot be compartmentalised” as aggression on one border affects the situation on the other as well.

A diplomatic observer said US officials realised the seriousness of the current situation and believed that it “cannot and must not be ignored”, but were reluctant to play a more active role for fear that it may backfire.

Pakistani officials also claim that this week’s Afghan attack on border villages in Chaman was not a coincidence. “They believe that it was motivated and that India might have been involved too,” said a diplomatic source.

Published in Dawn, May 09th, 2017