Tue, Dec 05, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Mattis in Pakistan to push for action to curb militants

AP, ISLAMABAD

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis yesterday arrived in Islamabad to meet with top leaders and seek common ground on the counterterrorism fight, amid Trump administration calls for Islamabad to more aggressively go after the insurgents moving back and forth across the border with Afghanistan.

Mattis said he wants to work with Pakistan to address the problems, adding that the US is committed to a pragmatic relationship that expands cooperation while also “reinforcing President [Donald] Trump’s call for action against terrorist safe havens.”

“We have heard from Pakistani leaders that they do not support terrorism ... we expect them to act in their own best interest, and in support of peace and regional stability,” Mattis told reporters travelling with him in the Middle East before his visit to Islamabad.

Mattis is expected to meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, as well as the US embassy team.

He was greeted at the airport by US Ambassador David Hale and senior Pakistani military leaders.

Asked if he was going to press the Pakistani leaders to take more action against the insurgents, Mattis said: “That’s not the way I deal with issues. I believe that we work hard on finding the common ground and then we work together.”

However, Mattis’ optimism comes despite persistent US assertions that Islamabad is still not doing enough to battle the Taliban and allied Haqqani network insurgents within its borders.

Since the start of the war in Afghanistan, militants in Pakistan have crossed the mountainous and ill-defined border to wage attacks against US, Afghan and allied forces.

They then would return to their safe havens in Pakistan, where they have had a long-standing relationship with Islamabad’s intelligence agency, ISI.

In a blunt assessment early last week, General John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, said there have been no changes in Pakistan’s support for militant networks.

He said Pakistani leaders went to Kabul and met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“They identified certain steps that they were going to take. We’ve not yet seen those steps play out,” Nicholson told reporters in a recent briefing.

The US has been very direct about what it expects Pakistan to do in the fight against the Taliban, he said.

“We’re hoping to see those changes,” he said. “We’re hoping to work together with the Pakistanis going forward to eliminate terrorists who are crossing” between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the White House has condemned Pakistan’s release late last month of a US-wanted militant as a “step in the wrong direction.”

It warned that the move could harm Islamabad’s relations with the US and its reputation around the world.

The US in August said it would hold up US$255 million in military assistance for Pakistan until it cracks down on extremists threatening Afghanistan.

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