WASHINGTON: The US Department of Defence has ruled out hot pursuits into Pakistan to take out terrorists who flee Afghanistan.

In a briefing for Indian and Afghan media outlets, a Pentagon spokesperson also said that if Pakistan wants to keep militants within its borders, it could do so, as long as they do not disturb peace and stability in Afghanistan.

“Say, for example, we have troops in contact and then the Taliban forces go across the border. They are clearly inside Pakistan then,” said Lt Col Mike Andrews. “We have no authority to go into Pakistan. There’s no change with regard to respecting the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan.”

Also read: Tillerson urges Pakistan to step up action against terrorist 'safe havens'

The Pentagon official explained that US troops in Afghanistan operated within Afghanistan’s borders only and they had no authority to cross that border. “If there is a way to get that authority, but that would certainly be the exception and not the norm,” he added.

US links security aid resumption with Pakistan’s action against ‘terrorist safe havens’

Col Andrews pointed out that an exception did not apply to routine operations, and, therefore, crossing into Pakistan was not going to be a part of normal day-to-day operational rules of engagement for US commanders in Afghanistan.

“If the Taliban reside in Pakistan and we are able to provide safety and support and to help secure districts and provinces within Afghanistan, I think that is a trade-off that we’re willing to make,” he said. “Because it’s not necessarily about these people over in Pakistan, it is about the Afghan people.”

The Pentagon official said that this year, the official Afghan forces would focus their efforts on taking back the provinces that the Taliban claimed or contested.

“And what happens in Pakistan, we can’t have any control on that,” he said. “That’s something within Pakistan, that’s something the nation of Pakistan has got to resolve. Now we’re going to stay focused on Afghanistan.”

Col Andrews said that the US expected Pakistan to take steps to ensure there were no sanctuaries where Taliban or other terrorist organisations could hide.

“We are hopeful Pakistan will take action, because not only do we feel it is going to serve Afghanistan, but it’s going to help protect Pakistan, India and the entire region,” he argued.

Col Andrews also said that the US would not resume its security aid to Pakistan until Islamabad addresses Washington’s concerns over alleged terrorist safe havens within its borders.

The Trump administration suspended more than one billion dollars of security assistance to Pakistan after accusing Islamabad of harbouring terror groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network.

“The US government has been very honest and open both publicly and privately with Pakistan on the things that they need to address before we can move forward with the resumption of the aid that has been suspended,” Col Andrews said.

The Pentagon’s comments follow renewed efforts to improve relations between the United States and Pakistan who were once close allies in the war against terrorists.

On Friday, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, on a private visit to Pennsylvania, had a surprise meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence which focused, almost entirely, on Afghanistan.

Mr Pence used this meeting to emphasise the need for “Pakistan to do more to address the continued presence of the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other terrorist groups operating in their country,” the White House said.

The meeting followed a visit to Washington by Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua who also received similar messages at her meetings at the State Department and the White House. And on Saturday, a day after the Pence-Abbasi meeting, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that he too is inviting the Pakistani prime minister to Kabul to “initiate state-to-state comprehensive dialogue”.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2018

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