In a clear indication that the US patience with Pakistan's support of terror groups is wearing thin, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday the United States would try ''one more time'' to work with Pakistan in Afghanistan before President Donald Trump turns to options to address Islamabad's alleged support for militant groups.
''We need to try one more time to make this strategy work with them, by, with and through the Pakistanis, and if our best efforts fail, the president is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary,'' Mattis said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing in comments that are likely to cause concern in Islamabad and within the Pakistan military.
Mattis also said Pakistan can gain strong economic benefits from India if it finds ''a way to carry out its international responsibilities'' and brings an end to any kind of terror safe havens on its soil.
''There are a number of lines of effort being put together now in secretary of treasury's office, secretary of state's office, my own office, the intel agencies. We are also working with secretary general Stoltenberg to ensure that NATO's (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) equities are brought to bear,'' Mattis said responding to a question on why Pakistan would change its mind on terrorist safe havens.
He said India certainly has a role to play as a neighbour, and potentially a very strong economic benefit to Pakistan. ''There's a great deal that Pakistan can benefit economically, diplomatically, financially for its government; economically for its people; by finally sensing that the tide has shifted against this,'' Mattis said.
Mattis said Pakistan has a ''convoluted history'' with terrorism and there can be little doubt that there have been terrorist groups that have used Pakistan as a haven for attacks outwardly, and not just towards Afghanistan. ''We've seen the attacks on India as well. Probably few nations, perhaps none, have lost as many troops fighting terrorists as they have,'' he said.
Mattis added that he would be travelling to Islamabad soon, but did not give more details.
Asked by a lawmaker whether revoking Pakistan's major non-NATO ally status was amongst the options being considered to deal with Islamabad, Mattis said, ''I am sure it will be.''
In a separate Senate hearing on Tuesday, the top US military officer said he believed Pakistan's main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, had ties to militant groups, Reuters reports.
''It is clear to me that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups,'' Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.