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WASHINGTON: Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s visit to Kabul earlier this week presages a new chapter’ in ending the Afghan conflict, says US Defence Secretary James Mattis.

Appearing before two congressional panels on Tuesday, Secretary Mattis also revealed that the United States had chalked out a plan for reengaging Pakistan for resolving bilateral differences.

“Right now, based on a very recent visit by the chief of army staff from Pakistan, there is actually optimism [here] and in Kabul that his visit presages a new chapter,” Mr Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Secretary Mattis and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph Dunford appeared before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees to brief lawmakers on the situation in Afghanistan.

“We were encouraged, just this week, with General Bajwa’s visit to Afghanistan…He had very good meetings with Afghan leadership. Our leadership was engaged in those meetings as well,” said Gen Dunford.

Mr Mattis said the US assistant secretaries and national security staff would visit Pakistan soon for talks on how to reengage Islamabad in efforts to eradicate terrorism. And these visits will be followed by himself and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, he told the House Armed Services Committee.

“I would like to think we will be successful,” but that the United States “has an enormously powerful number of options” if not, said Mr Mattis.

“I think that right now with the growing consensus against terrorism, they’ll find themselves diplomatically isolated, they’ll find themselves economically in increasing trouble as countries that are damaged by this terrorism coming out of there say enough is enough and take steps,” he said.

In the morning session, Mr Mattis told the committee that the US would try “one more time” to work with Pakistan on the Afghanistan front before President Donald Trump turned to “other options” to address Islama­bad’s alleged support for militant groups.

At the House committee, Gen Dunford accused Pakistani intelligence agencies of having links with certain terrorists group and urged them to sever those ties.

“I think it’s clear to me that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups,” said the general while responding to a question from Senator Joe Donnelly.

“Gen Dunford, is it your sense that the ISI is still helping the Taliban?” Senator Donnelly asked.

Gen Dunford said he believed a multilateral approach might help in bringing changes in Pakistan’s behaviour. Secretary Mattis backed this claim, acknowledging that Pakistani intelligence agencies were helping the Taliban.

“We have seen havens left to the terrorists’ own devices. We have seen the government of Pakistan come down on terrorism, while ISI appears to run its own foreign policy,” he said.

Mr Mattis said the Trump administration was very clear and firm in what it expected from Pakistan and was using all options to bring about that change.

“There are a number of lines of effort being put together now in Secretary of Treasury’s office, Secretary of State’s office, my own office, the intel agencies. We are also working with Secretary General Stoltenberg to ensure that Nato’s equities are brought to bear,” Mr Mattis said, responding to a question on why would Pakistan change its mind on terrorist safe havens this time.

But committee chairman Senator John McCain said he feared that “we still do not know what specific steps the United States will take to convince or compel Pakistan to change its behaviour, or what costs we will impose if Pakistan fails to do so”.

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2017