US warns of unilateral steps if Pakistan dithers on terror fight

16 December 2017

The United States has warned Pakistan of ''unilateral steps in areas of divergence'' with Pakistan in its fight against terrorism, if Islamabad failed to effectively eliminate terrorist safe havens in the country.

In its report on Afghanistan to the Congress the first after President Donald Trump announce his Afghan and South Asia strategy - the Pentagon on Friday said that unless there is a ''fundamental change'' in the way Islamabad dealt with terrorist safe havens on its territory, the US will have to rework its Afghan strategy.

The Pentagon said it will be a part of a whole-of-government regional strategy to isolate the Taliban from ''sources of external support'' and to mitigate any malign influence from outside actors.

''Our military-to-military relationship with Pakistan remains critical to the success of our mutual interests in the region,'' said the semi-annual report titled 'Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan' that covers events during the period from 1 June to 30 November this year.

''To move forward, we must see fundamental changes in the way Pakistan deals with terrorist safe-havens in its territory,'' the report said.

''To induce that change, we will work across the US government, using a range of tools to expand our cooperation with Pakistan in areas where our interests converge and to take unilateral steps in areas of divergence,'' it said.

The Af-Pak border region is home to a number of insurgent groups, including al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ISIS-K, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Pentagon report noted.

''Sanctuary on the Pakistani side and presence on the Afghan side remain security challenges for both countries and pose a threat to regional security and stability,'' the defence department said.

Pakistani military operations against extremist groups have not so far helped to eliminate or effectively repress any of these militant groups or disrupt their sanctuaries. On the other hand, the report said, certain extremist groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network enjoy freedom of movement in Pakistan.

''The United States continues to convey to all levels of Pakistani leadership the importance of taking action against all terrorist and extremist groups,'' the Pentagon said.

Without concerted efforts by Afghanistan and Pakistan to maintain pressure on militant and terrorist groups, it would be difficult for countries on both sides of the border to secure enduring security, it said.

''The trust deficit resulting from Pakistan's support of and inaction against Afghan-oriented extremists, and Pakistan's concerns about terrorist attacks launched from Afghanistan, hampers the bilateral military collaboration required to achieve enduring security,'' the Pentagon said.

Under the new strategy, the United States will align its resources - diplomatic, military, and economic in support of a negotiated settlement to safeguard the fragile, but hard-won gains in Afghanistan, Pentagon stated in its report.

''We have recommitted to helping the Afghan government and people navigate through these challenges with a new approach that leverages additional support from allies, partners, and regional actors,'' it said.

''Our commitment is enduring but not unlimited, our support is not a blank check. As long as the Afghan government continues to show real progress and make real reforms, we will continue to support them as our strategic partners in the fight against international terrorism,'' the report said.

''The Taliban cannot win on the battlefield. They must know that their only path to peace and political legitimacy is through a negotiated settlement with the Afghan government,'' it asserted.

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