WASHINGTON: The United States stands firmly with Pakistan in its fight against terrorists, but Washington is still trying to ‘wrap its head around’ the country’s security situation.

This message came from two senior US officials after recent terrorist attacks in Peshawar and Karachi.

“The US strongly condemns the terrorist attack on the Karachi Police Office,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price while commenting on Friday’s attack in Karachi.

“We stand firmly with the Pakistani people in the face of this terrorist attack. Violence is not the answer, and it must stop.”

Counselor Derek Chollet, one of the highest-ranking officials at the US State Department, said the United States was prepared to work with Pakistan as the country assessed the renewed threat of terrorism.

Washington was “trying to wrap its head around” how the threat had been evolving in Pakistan, Mr Chollet said in a recent interview to the VOA broadcasting service after his day-long visit to Islamabad on Thursday.

“We are very much following their [Pakistan’s] lead in terms of both the investigation and where that leads and ensuring that those who conducted these attacks are held accountable,” he said.

Madiha Afzal, a Pakistani-American scholar at Washington’s Brookings Institution, however, described Friday’s attack at the Karachi police office as “shocking, brazen,” and noted that “the state (was) once again asleep at the wheel” as the terrorists raided a key security building on Karachi’s “main thoroughfare, Shahrah-e-Faisal.”

In his interview to VOA, Mr Chollet did offer to help Pakistan fight terrorism would not say whether Washington would support any Pakistani action against terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan.

This was Mr Chollet’s second visit in five months and it came as Pakistan faces near daily deadly terror attacks.

Mr Chollet would not say what kind of Pakistani counterterrorism action, including cross-border military strikes, Washington would support. “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about what we would support or not. … I don’t want to say … publicly … how that [Price’s statement] would apply in hypothetical situations,” he said. 

Instead, Mr Chollet said he talked to his Pakistani counterparts about their needs and the help Washington could provide, adding that Pakistan’s economic situation was also “worrisome” for Washington.

He said that while the debt Pakistan owed to China was a concern around the world, the US was not asking Pakistan to choose between Beijing and Washington.

Despite Pakistan’s economic crisis, political instability and worsening security situation, Mr Chollet said that ties with the country mattered. “Not every ally, partner, is equal, but all of our relationships matter,” he said. 

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2023

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