Tillerson in Pakistan with a tough message on safe havens

By , on October 24, 2017


FILE: Tillerson told Abbasi that Pakistan is “so important regionally to our joint goals of providing peace and security to the region and providing opportunity for greater economic relationship.”(Photo by arctic_council/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)
FILE: Tillerson told Abbasi that Pakistan is “so important regionally to our joint goals of providing peace and security to the region and providing opportunity for greater economic relationship.”(Photo by arctic_council/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

ISLAMABAD— U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Pakistan to deliver a tough message on the importance of fighting extremists and driving them from hideouts on Pakistani territory.

Tillerson arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday, a day after travelling to Iraq and Afghanistan in conditions of strict secrecy. He met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Foreign Minister Khwaja Mohammad Asif and the heads of the army and intelligence services.

Tillerson told Abbasi that Pakistan is “so important regionally to our joint goals of providing peace and security to the region and providing opportunity for greater economic relationship.”

Abbasi said Pakistan is “committed in the war against terror.”

“We have produced results and we are looking forward to moving ahead with the U.S. and building a tremendous relationship,” he said.

“The U.S. can rest assured that we are strategic partners in the war against terror and that today Pakistan is fighting the largest war in the world against terror,” Abbasi said. “We appreciate the understandings that we agreed and we appreciate the engagement.”

In Afghanistan on Monday, he told reporters that Pakistan’s co-operation on counterterrorism is essential for a good relationship with the U.S. His comments echoed those of other top U.S. officials who have been pressing Pakistan on the matter.

He said Pakistan needs to “take a clear-eyed view” of its position and act.

“Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organizations that find safe haven inside of Pakistan,” he said. “So we want to work closely Pakistan to create a more stable and secure Pakistan as well.”

Earlier this month, the campaign appeared to produce some success when Pakistani security forces assisted with the release of a Taliban-held U.S.-Canadian family after five years in captivity. However, officials cautioned that action needed to be followed with additional steps.

Tillerson, who will visit India after Pakistan, is in South Asia to outline the Trump administration’s new strategy for the region, which is heavy on combatting extremist groups.

Last week, CIA director Mike Pompeo said that for the strategy to work, the Taliban must be convinced they have no hope of winning militarily in Afghanistan and that means making it impossible for them to cross the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border and hide inside Pakistan.

“To do that you cannot have a safe haven in Pakistan,” he said. But he added that the U.S. had low expectations.

U.S. officials have long accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye or assisting the Afghan Taliban and the allied Haqqani network. Pakistan routinely denies colluding with the militants.

In early October, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional hearing that it was clear to him that Pakistan’s intelligence service had connections to militant groups.

Pakistan has struggled to shake off suspicion that it wields a malign and strategic interest in Afghanistan, on its western border. It has ties to the Taliban dating to the extremist movement’s genesis in the 1990s.