Mattis to seek categorical Pak reply on ‘tough question’

ISLAMABAD –  The United States Defence Secretary, James Mattis, will be in Islamabad on December 4 (today) with a categorical question for Pakistan – “are you with us, or not”, diplomatic sources said.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation, that the US in fact had already sent the “tough question”, and Mattis would only be here to seek Pakistan’s reply.

“They have not gone any softer ever since President Donald Trump’s August speech. We have been struggling to convince them that we are with them. In principle our answer is: ‘We are with you’,” said one official who has been in contact with Washington.

Mattis will meet Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa during his one-day visit.

Ahead of arrival in Islamabad, James Mattis said his visit was part of an effort to “set the conditions for future collaboration” that would lead to denial of safe havens “for any terrorist group that would attack anyone in the region.”

Mattis said the US would like to broaden the focus to ensure “no terrorist organisation is seen as able to operate from a haven there.”

In October, the US defence secretary had told the American lawmakers the Trump Administration was willing to work with Pakistan “one more time” before rolling out punitive measures to compel it to act more decisively against terrorists.

This weekend, Mattis embarked on a four-nation tour to Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Kuwait.

“In Afghanistan, we have heard from Pakistan leaders that they do not support terrorism. So I expect to see that sort of action reflected in their policies,” he said.

Last week, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said Pakistan did not agree with US President Donald Trump’s policy on South Asia but talks were on to find common ground to move forward.

“Pakistan does not agree with the US policy on South Asia, which was announced in August this year. There was a difference in understanding and perceptions on both sides. Thereafter, a dialogue started,” he said.

Faisal said the meeting between Prime Minister Abbasi and the US Vice President, Mike Pence, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly was followed by a meeting between Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas A Shannon to improve ties.

“Soon thereafter, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif met the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and others in Washington. Later, Lisa Curtis and Alice Wells came to Pakistan twice, followed by the visit of the US secretary of state to Pakistan. And now US Defence Secretary James Mattis will be visiting Pakistan to continue the interaction,” he elaborated.

Recently, Pakistan had asked the US not to “dictate terms” on the war on terror as it violated the country’s sovereignty.

Islamabad had complained to Washington that Pakistan was “sincerely” fighting the terrorists in its own and global interest but was not getting the desired response from the US.

Another official at the foreign ministry said Pakistan was ready for the meeting with Mattis and would be presenting a “performance report” to the defence secretary about the recent actions against the terrorists.

“Pakistan has been fighting the war against terrorism for its own sake. The US needs to acknowledge our sacrifices,” he added.

The official said PM Abbasi and General Bajwa would try to convince Mattis about Pakistan’s sincerity in its fight against terrorism.

“We will be telling him that we cannot control militants inside Afghanistan and Kabul needs to help Pakistan,” the official said.

Last week, the US and the Nato forces commander in Afghanistan General John Nicholson said Pakistan had not taken steps against the terrorists to satisfy Washington after President Donald Trump announced a new South Asia strategy in August.

Asked about Pakistan’s alleged ties with the Haqqani network, he said: “Well, to bookend that comment, the chairman of the joint chiefs [General Joseph Dunford] and the secretary of defence [James Mattis] were asked these questions on recently. I think they affirmed that those relationships still exist. So I would leave it at that and I concur with their assessment.”

General Nicholson alleged top Taliban leadership was hiding inside Pakistan, while the “tactical-level leadership” was in Afghanistan.

He said Pakistan had promised to act against all the terror groups but “we have not yet seen those steps play out.”

Announcing his new South Asia strategy in August, Trump had said: “For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror. The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict. And that could happen.”

The US president warned Pakistan that it had “much to lose” by continuing to “harbour” criminals and terrorists.

This month, the White House had responded sharply to the release of Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed – whom the US and India accuse of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

International affairs expert Pervez Iqbal Cheema said the US should be logical about its expectations from Pakistan.

“Mattis should know our limitations and our sacrifices. They should not dictate terms,” he said.

Cheema said the US policy seemed influenced by India despite Pakistan’s efforts to remove misunderstandings.


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