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US President Donald Trump announcing his new strategy for Afghanistan.
US President Donald Trump announcing his new strategy for Afghanistan.

• US to exercise ‘all options’ to persuade Islamabad: Tillerson
• Pakistan vows to continue participating in global efforts; Beijing backs Islamabad

WASHINGTON/ISLAMABAD: Hours after US President Donald Trump called upon Pakistan to “demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order and to peace” and identified the country a safe haven for “agents of chaos, violence and terror”, Islamabad expressed its disappointment on Tuesday over the disregard for its sacrifices, but vowed to continue participating in global counterterrorism efforts.

President Trump’s new strategy for Afghanistan, which he announced in an address to his nation on Monday night, also warned against the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists and being used against the United States.

These were perhaps the harshest remarks uttered against Pakistan by any US president over the course of their 70-year relationship, which has seen many ups and downs.

Even former president Barack Obama was not so harsh when he announced the discovery and elimination of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.

But President Trump minced no words. “The next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach in how to deal with Pakistan. We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” he said.

“For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror. The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict. And that could happen,” he said.

“In Afghanistan and Pakistan, America’s interests are clear. We must stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America. And we must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us, or anywhere in the world, for that matter,” the US president warned.

He made it clear that the key point of his new strategy was to win the war in Afghanistan, and if Pakistan wanted to remain an ally, it would have to help the US achieve that objective.

“In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognise those contributions and those sacrifices,” he said.

“But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organisations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. No partnership can survive a country’s harbouring of militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials,” he said.

He added insult to injury by urging India to play a greater role in Afghanistan, ignoring Islamabad’s fears that New Delhi might use its growing influence there to stir trouble in Pakistan.

Warning Pakistan to change its policy or face America’s wrath, President Trump said that “another critical part” of his strategy was to “further develop its strategic partnership with India,” the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the US. Biggest victim

In reaction to the new US policy, issued by the Foreign Office in Islamabad after a meeting of the federal cabinet, said no country in the world had done more against terrorism than Pakistan, which also was its biggest victim. The cabinet decided to convene a meeting of the National Security Committee on Thursday to formulate a detailed rejoinder.

The statement reiterated that Pakistan did not allow the use of its territory against any country. “Instead of relying on the false narrative of safe havens, the US needs to work with Pakistan to eradicate terrorism.”

It noted that threat to peace and security could not be isolated from the complex interplay of geopolitics, continued existence of festering disputes and pursuit of hegemonic policies.

“Non-resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute remains the primary obstacle to peace and stability in the region,” it said. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, in a meeting with US Ambassador David Hale, renewed Pakistan’s commitment to cooperate with the international community in fighting terrorism.

The envoy met Mr Asif hours after President Trump’s speech. A Foreign Office statement said he briefed the minister on the US president’s statement.

Mr Asif will travel to Washington over the next few days on the invitation of US

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, where he will hold in depth talks on the new policy and the state of bilateral relations.

The opposition parties denounced the new US policy, with Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan saying that Pakistan was being made a scapegoat for US failures in Afghanistan.

He said the new policy carried a lesson for Pakistan; “never fight others’ wars for the lure of dollars”. All options

Trying to reduce the impact of President Trump’s hard-hitting speech, Secretary Tillerson later declared that Pakistan could still be a key US partner in the region if it eliminated alleged terrorist safe havens.

“Pakistan has suffered greatly from terrorism and can be an important partner in our shared goals of peace and stability in the region. We look to Pakistan to take decisive action against militant groups based in Pakistan that are a threat to the region,” he said in a statement issued by the State Department. Mr Tillerson also spoke with India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani.

At a State Department news briefing on Tuesday, Mr Tillerson said the US would exercise all the options it had to persuade Pakistan to stop allowing the Afghan Taliban to use its soil.

“We will engage with them as to our expectations and all of the things you just listed are on the table. It is in Pakistan’s interest to take these actions.”

He explained the measures President Trump had outlined in his address.

“I think the president was clear that this effort is to put pressure on Taliban to have them understand that you will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one but neither will you. Need to bring to negotiating table for an end,” he said.

Mr Tillerson said the Trump administration took months to finalise the strategy because it chose not to just focus on Afghanistan but conduct a comprehensive review of its relationships with Pakistan and India as well.

“Pakistan can play an important role in delivering Taliban to negotiating table. They have suffered terrorism as dramatic as anyone we’ve seen. They must adopt a different approach,” Mr Tillerson said.

The top US diplomat acknowledged that historically, Pakistan and the US had had a good relationship but it had eroded in trust.

“We have witnessed terrorist organisations disrupt peace efforts within Afghanistan. Pakistan must adopt a different approach. Must help them protect themselves,” he said.

Explaining how the US viewed its future ties with Pakistan, the secretary said: “We are going to be conditioning our support and relationship with Pakistan on them being able to deliver results. We want to work with them in a positive way but they must change their approach.”

Mr Tillerson said that this new approach was also good for Pakistan as it too had been a victim of terrorism. “In my view, the greatest benefactor other than the Afghan people to defending Afghanistan is Pakistan,” he said.

The US secretary said he had “a good call with the PM of Pakistan to give them a warning of what they were going to hear. I touched on the points I made to you today”.

Mr Tillerson said there were no preconditions how Pakistan and Afghanistan should work together to seek a negotiated end to the conflict. “They need to sit down and talk this out. We don’t know what’s going to emerge here -- we will encourage others but it’s up to the Afghan government and the Taliban to work out a reconciliation process.”

“We are going to have to improve the security environment. We are going to have to ensure we are ready to engage when conditions permit us to engage. That is why Pakistan is very important -- they can facilitate much of that discussion.”

The US, he said, had also engaged other regional players, such as China, Russia and the Gulf countries.

“Obviously, we have some leverage in discussions on military assistance and their status as a non-Nato ally. At the end of the day, Pakistan has to decide what is in their interest. If I were the Pakistan government, I would have growing concerns about the strength of the Taliban.”

Urging Pakistan and India to take a regional approach and resolve their differences, Mr Tillerson said: “The US alone is not going to change this dynamic with Pakistan. They have to deal with India.”

He said there were issues on which India too “can take some steps to improve its relations with Pakistan”.

The secretary said that other players too had strong interests in Pakistan. “Having a stable, secure future Pakistan is in a lot of our interests -- they are a nuclear power and we have concerns about the security of their weapons,” he said, while naming China as another power with interests in Pakistan.

“This is not a situation where the US is saying ‘this is us and you’. Our goal is to bring strategic interests into this effort. Too often we try to distil these issues down to the two countries. We have to enlarge the circle of interest and bring others into the effort as well.”

Chinese support

Beijing came out strongly in support of Pakistan after the criticism by President Trump.

In a meeting with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised Pakistan’s “great sacrifices” in the fight against terrorism and urged the international community to recognise the same.

Earlier, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “(On) President Trump’s remarks on Pakistan, I should say that Pakistan is at the frontline of fighting terrorism, has made sacrifices in fighting terrorism, making an important contribution to upholding peace and stability.”

Ms Hua expressed hope that decisions made by the US “will be conducive to promoting security, stability of the relevant region”.

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2017