US again puts Pakistan on notice over ending terror support

28 October 2017

The United States is waiting to see practical steps taken by Pakistan over the next weeks and months in its war against terrorism, a top American diplomat said, asserting that the Trump administration is moving quickly on its own strategy to fight against terror groups.

The US expects Islamabad to take quick action to show support in countering militants in Afghanistan and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, Alice Wells, the acting assistant secretary for South Asia in the US State Department, told reporters on Friday.

Wells accompanied US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on a week-long tour in the Middle East and South Asia including stops in Pakistan and India.

"The Secretary stressed the importance of Pakistan moving quickly to demonstrate good faith and efforts to use its influence to create the conditions that will get the Taliban to the negotiating table," said Wells.

Earlier this week, ahead of his stopover in Pakistan, Tillerson said in Afghanistan that the Trump's administration will pursue "conditions-based" relations with Pakistan, a statement that was widely criticised by Islamabad.

Wells told reporters in a briefing in Washington, "This is about Pakistan's sovereign choice. This is not about America giving dictation. We've described our strategy, we've described a very important role for Pakistan, who we see as a very important country in the region, but it's up to them whether or not they want to work with us on this strategy. And if they don't, as the secretary (Tillerson) said, we'll adjust accordingly".

During his just concluded visit to Pakistan, Tillerson stressed the importance of Pakistan "moving quickly" to demonstrate good faith and efforts to use its influence to create the conditions that will get the Taliban to the negotiating table.

"These are things that are seen, felt and measurable, and so we look forward over the next weeks and months to see the practical steps that Pakistan takes out of its own self-interest and ensuring that its own country is not destabilised by some of the actions of the groups that have been able to use its territory," Wells said.

"I can't give you an explicit timetable, but we're moving very quickly ourselves on our own strategy and in reinforcing on the military side our ability to demonstrate to the Taliban that they cannot win this war. We are going to make equally rapid progress on the diplomatic side or have equally-high expectations on the diplomatic side of responsiveness," she said.

Wells asserted that the Taliban leadership and the Haqqani Network still retain an ability to plan, to recuperate, and to reside with their families in Pakistan.

The Quetta and Peshawar leadership councils of the Taliban have their names for a reason, she noted.

"What we saw in 2014 was we saw Pakistan make a strategic decision to defeat the terrorist groups that were targeting the government of Pakistan. And with great loss of life, great courage, great vision about what needed to be done, Pakistan has fought that battle and now has regained control and sovereignty over the FATA territories," she said.

"We'd like to see the same strategic commitment brought against other militant groups, whether that are operating or have used Pakistan's territory, whether they are directed against India or directed against Afghanistan," she added.

Tillerson, during his meetings with Pakistani leadership, had an extremely candid conversation with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the civilian and military leadership team, she said.

According to Wells, over the last four years Pakistani officials and the Taliban both thought the US was withdrawing. "They were hedging against a chaotic departure. They were hedging against an uncertain security environment," she said.

"What the South Asia strategy gives them, is certainty that we're there, we're not going to let the Taliban win, that we're prepared to invest the resources that will be, at a minimum, a stalemate but a stalemate increasingly in the government's favour," she said.

US-Pakistan relations have been strained over counterterrorism measures. In an August address, US President Donald Trump had lashed out at Islamabad, accusing it of providing safe haven to "agents of chaos".

Trump's remarks received widespread criticism in Pakistan as a vast majority in the country believes he ignored their sacrifices in the war on terror which claimed the lives of nearly 73,000 Pakistanis.

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