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US seeks Pakistan’s support in Afghanistan, but urges caution on India

Updated June 14, 2019

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Alice Wells outlined the administration’s priorities for Pakistan before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation, which began a hearing on Thursday on the State Department’s budget requests for the South and Central Asian regions. — Wikimedia Commons/File
Alice Wells outlined the administration’s priorities for Pakistan before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation, which began a hearing on Thursday on the State Department’s budget requests for the South and Central Asian regions. — Wikimedia Commons/File

WASHINGTON: The United States wants Pakistan to continue supporting the Afghan peace process but also expects Islamabad to end its allegedly “unacceptable support” to militants, say two key US officials, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Assistant Secretary Alice G. Wells.

“Under President Trump, we’ve taken our defence cooperation to new heights … and taken a far tougher stand on Pakistan’s unacceptable support for terrorism in the region,” Secretary Pompeo told a gathering of mainly Indian-Americans in Washington on Wednesday.

“Our approach to Pakistan has focused largely on securing Islamabad’s support for the Afghan peace process and for Pakistan to follow through on its pledges to take sustained and irreversible actions against all militant groups operating from within its territory,” said Wells, who looks after South Asian affairs at the State Department.

Secretary Pompeo, who will visit India later this month, also addressed India’s hyper-sensitive approach in its dealings with China and Pakistan.

Wells outlines US priorities for Islamabad before panel for Asia

“We get it. We realise it’s different to deal with the likes of China and Pakistan from across the ocean than it is when they are on your borders,” he said.

Ms Wells outlined the administration’s priorities for Pakistan before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation, which began a hearing on Thursday on the State Department’s budget requests for the South and Central Asian regions.

“Our relationship with Pakistan remains one of our most complex and most consequential,” she said. “Our engagement with Pakistan on nonproliferation issues is also crucial. The United States and Pakistan both attach high importance to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

The United States, she said, also remains concerned about Pakistan’s development of certain categories of nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

“On Afghanistan reconciliation, we recognise that Pakistan has taken steps to encourage Taliban participation in peace negotiations, which has been important to the progress we have made thus far,” she said.

“(But) there is much more work to be done to achieve our ultimate goal of a peaceful Afghanistan free of terrorist groups.”

Noting that no other country will benefit more from a peaceful Afghanis­tan than Pakistan, she said: “We exp­ect Pakistan to continue to play a constructive role in reconciliation efforts.”

Ms Wells noted that the Pulwama terrorist attack in February sparked a crisis between India and Pakistan and underscored the importance and immediate need to halt terrorist activity in the region.

“We continue to urge Pakistan’s leaders to make good on their pledges to take sustained and irreversible actions against terrorist groups operating within the country’s borders, which is necessary for the long-term stability and prosperity of the region,” she said.

The US official acknowledged that in recent months, Pakistan had detained some militants and seized assets belonging to front organisations raising funds for terrorist groups.

“While these steps are important, they are still reversible. Pakistan must sustain these measures and expand upon them, including by prosecuting terrorist leaders.”

Ms Wells warned that terrorist organisations, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), would continue to pose a grave risk to international peace as long as they were able to operate freely in Pakistan.

The US official also took credit for the May 1 listing of JeM leader Masood Azhar at the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee — “an achievement 10 years in the making”. She argued that this listing sent an important message that the international community would not tolerate terrorism.

“Sustained progress on these two issues — reconciliation and counterterrorism — will lie at the heart of a renewed bilateral relationship,” Ms Well said. “We believe in the potential of the US-Pakistan relationship to foster regional stability and economic prosperity.”

The State Department official told the congressional panel that her department’s budget request for 2020 did “not include security assistance funding for Pakistan’s military”.

Mr Pompeo, who will visit India, Sri Lanka, Japan and South Korea from June 24 to 30, also cited BJP’s popular election slogan — “Modi hai to mumkin hai” — while expressing the Trump administration’s desire to build a strong partnership with India.

“As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his latest campaign, ‘Modi hai to mumkin hai,’ or ‘Modi makes it possible’, I’m looking forward to exploring what’s possible between our people,” he said.

Mr Pompeo noted that the first batch of India’s Apache helicopters were coming off Boeing’s production line in Arizona. Other defence equipment made available to India include Lockheed Martin’s F-21 and Boeing’s F/A-18 are state-of-the-art fighters that could give New Delhi an edge in air capabilities.

The Trump Administration has also allowed American companies to export more high technology items to India, including cutting-edge defence platforms like armed UAVs and ballistic missile defence systems.

“We have already launched the Asia-EDGE programme, to help India raise private capital to meet its energy security and access needs,” Mr Pompeo said.

“These are solid achievements, but we want to do much more. We clearly have overlapping interests in defence, energy and space.”

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2019