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UNITED NATIONS: US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he had totally changed the rules of engagement in the fight against Afghan Taliban.

He said that in his Aug 21 speech he had announced a new strategy for victory “in the fight against this evil” in Afghanistan. “From now on, our security interests will dictate the length and scope of military operation, not arbitrary benchmarks and timetables set up by politicians.”

The fight against terrorism, he said, was larger than the US engagement in Pakistan as the United States and its allies were working together throughout the Middle East to “crush the loser terrorists and stop the re-emergence of safe havens they use to launch attacks on all of our people”.

The president said now was the time to expose the countries that supported and financed terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and the Taliban.

When contacted, a US State Department official explained that neither President Trump’s speech nor his new strategy expressed the desire to move away from Pakistan.

She also sought to dispel the impression created after the Aug 21 speech that the United States no longer saw Pakistan as an ally in the war against terrorism.

“We will rely on a range of tools to expand our cooperation with Pakistan in areas where our interests overlap, and to address areas of divergence,” said Helaena White, US State Department’s spokesperson for the South Asian media.

Many in Washington, however, interpreted the new US strategy for South Asia, as a plan for downgrading the US partnership with Pakistan and for giving India greater role in the region, particularly in Afghanistan.

In his Aug 21 speech, Mr Trump also blamed Pakistan for sheltering militants and warned that Washington cannot continue to provide military and economic assistance to Islamabad as before because of its Afghan policy, which hurts US interests in Afghanistan.

Asked about President Trump’s claim that Pakistan allows terrorist safe havens inside its territories, Ms White said: “The United States strongly believes that the existence of terrorist safe havens anywhere makes the US, its allies, and all nations in the region less safe.”

The United States, she said, wanted to work with Pakistan to destroy the safe havens.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2017