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‘Specific’ requests made to Pakistan to undermine militants, says Tillerson

Updated October 24, 2017

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talks to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Bagram Air Field on Monday. —AFP
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talks to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Bagram Air Field on Monday. —AFP

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the United States has made “some very specific requests” to Pakistan to undermine the Taliban and would discuss those requests with the Pakistani leadership when he arrives in Islamabad on Tuesday (today).

Talking to journalists at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, Mr Tillerson said the US wanted to work with its “regional partners” to ensure that there were no threats of terrorism in South Asia. This regional effort, he said, was also elaborated in the new US strategy for South Asia that President Donald Trump announced on Aug 21.

“So we’re demanding others also deny safe haven to terrorists anywhere in the region. We are working closely with Pakistan in that regard as well,” a transcript released by the State Department in Washington quoted Mr Tillerson as telling the journalists.

Asked what actions could the US take against Pakistan if it did not accept Washington’s demand for destroying the alleged safe havens from its soil, Mr Tillerson said: “…we have made some very specific requests [to] Pakistan in order for them to take action to undermine the support that the Taliban receives and the other terrorist organisations receive in Pakistan.”

Offers moderate elements of Taliban share in Afghan govt

“And we’ve said in this whole strategy this is a conditions-based approach, and so our relationship with Pakistan will also be conditions-based,” he added.

Mr Tillerson said the US relationship with Pakistan was “based upon whether they take action that we feel is necessary to move the process forward of both creating the opportunity for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan, but also ensuring a stable future Pakistan”.

The top US diplomat insisted that those conditions were not to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan but were equally important for Pakistan as well.

“In our conversations with Pakistani leadership, we’re as concerned about the future stability of Pakistan as we are in many respects here in Afghanistan. Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they’re confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organisations that find safe haven inside of Pakistan,” he said. “We want to work closely with Pakistan to create a more stable and secure Pakistan as well.”

In reply to a question about Indian role in Afghanistan, he said: “That’s certainly something we’ll be talking about during the [Pakistan] visit tomorrow.”

AP adds: Mr Tillerson said there is a place for moderate elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan’s government as long as they renounce violence and terrorism and commit to stability.

Earlier, he met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other senior officials at the airbase.

He said the Taliban must understand that they would never win a military victory and should prepare to negotiate with the government.

“Clearly, we have to continue to fight against the Taliban, against others, in order for them to understand they will never win a military victory,” Mr Tillerson said.

“And there are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. They don’t want their children to fight forever. So we are looking to engage with those voices and have them engaged in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government.”

“There’s a place for them in the government if they are ready to come, renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence and being committed to a stable prosperous Afghanistan,” he said.

Mr Tillerson outlined to President Ghani and Mr Abdullah the Trump administration’s new South Asia policy, which the views the region through a lens that includes Afghanistan as well as Pakistan and India.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2017