Tillerson asks Islamabad to step up fight against terrorists

Updated October 25, 2017

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson holds talks with the Pakistani delegation led by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at PM House on Tuesday.— APP
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson holds talks with the Pakistani delegation led by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at PM House on Tuesday.— APP

ISLAMABAD: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Pakistani leadership on Tuesday to step up their fight against terrorist groups on their soil and facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process.

“The secretary reiterated President Trump’s message that Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within the country,” a US Embassy statement on Mr Tillerson’s visit said.

Mr Tillerson’s message appeared significantly toned down as compared to the usual American rhetoric on alleged terrorist sanctuaries on Pakistani soil, although in essence there was little difference in the messaging.

The secretary had just a day earlier told reporters at Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase that Islamabad needed to have “a clear-eyed view” of terror safe havens on its territory and cautioned that bilateral ties would be conditions-based in terms of whether or not its leaders take the “specific” actions that were being required of them.

In an attempt to allay Pakistan’s concerns, the secretary on multiple occasions during his few hours in Islamabad stressed Pakistan’s importance for America’s policy in this region and attainment of the goals set under President Trump’s South Asia strategy.

Civilian and military leaders sit together to present a united front to top US diplomat

“Pakistan is important regionally to our joint goals of providing peace and security to the region and providing opportunity for greater economic relationship as well,” Mr Tillerson said before the start of the talks.

Mr Tillerson held delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at the PM House. The Pakistani delegation, which was led by the prime minister, included Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Defence Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence Director General Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar.

It was one of the rare occasions when the often squabbling civilian and military leaders met the visiting US leader together to underscore their consensus on foreign policy issues.

Outlining US expectations from Islamabad, the secretary told his interlocutors that Pakistan should “facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan”, and contribute to shared interests of “establishing a stable, peaceful Afghanistan, defeating (the militant) Islamic State in South Asia, and eliminating terrorist groups that threaten both Pakistan and the United States”.

Frayed Pak-US ties came under fresh strains after President Trump, while announcing his South Asia strategy, accused Pakistan of insincerity in fighting terrorism, while taking billions of dollars from the US. But leaders of the two countries later worked together to avert a breakdown in relationship.

The effort for preventing such an eventuality was so well executed that at times it gave an impression of bonhomie. Reco­very of a kidnapped Candanian-American family from Taliban captivity and Washington’s profuse praise for the operation that led to their freedom came to epitomise the improvement in relations.

However, insiders had all along insisted, and something confirmed by Mr Tillerson’s visit, that notwithstanding the improved atmospherics, both sides were firmly holding on to their positions.

Talking to the US Embassy staff at the chancery, the secretary of state said that he was visiting Islamabad to continue the discussions on the recently announced President Trump’s South Asia policy. He told them that he expected “very open, very frank” discussions on the challenges in the bilateral relationship and things Pakistani leadership was expected to undertake to address those issues, besides making them realise that Washington wanted “to work together as partners”.

PM’s assurance

Prime Minister Abbasi, meanwhile, assured Secretary Tillerson that Pakistan remained committed to the war on terror and looked forward to continue working with the US.

Defence Minister Khurram Dastagir, participating in a TV talk show after attending the meeting, said the Pakistani side flagged its concerns about US plans for giving India a greater regional role.

“The two sides agreed to build upon the understanding reached in the dialogue process and to continue the pace and scope of high-level engagements in future,” a PMO statement said.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2017