USA Foreign Policy First Look

Secretary Mattis seeks diplomatic solutions with Pakistan on counterterrorism

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan are both committed to cooperate on the war on terror, amid Trump administration calls for Islamabad to target insurgents moving back and forth across the border with Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary James Mattis (l.) arrives in Islamabad, Pakistan on Dec. 4, 2017. Mr. Mattis will meet with top leaders and seek common ground on the counterterrorism fight.
US Embassy/AP
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Caption
  • Lolita C. Baldor
    Associated Press

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met with top Pakistani leaders Monday to seek common ground on the counterterrorism fight, amid Trump administration calls for Islamabad to more aggressively go after the insurgents moving back and forth across the border with Afghanistan.

In brief comments before their meeting began, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said his country is committed to the war on terror and shares the same common objectives as the United States.

"Engagement is there," he said, adding that they "need to move forward with [the] issues at hand." Secretary Mattis did not speak while reporters were present.

Earlier, Mattis told reporters traveling with him that he wants to work with Pakistan to address the problems, adding that the US is committed to a pragmatic relationship that expands cooperation while also "reinforcing President Trump's call for action against terrorist safe havens."

"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," Mattis said before his trip to Islamabad.

Mattis met with Abbasi and army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, as well as a number of senior Pakistani leaders and military officials and US Ambassador David Hale.

Asked if he was going to press the Pakistani leaders to take more action against the insurgents, Mattis said: "That's not the way I deal with issues. I believe that we work hard on finding the common ground and then we work together."

Mattis' optimism, however, comes despite persistent US assertions that Islamabad is still not doing enough to battle the Taliban and allied Haqqani network insurgents within its borders.

Since the start of the war in Afghanistan, militants in Pakistan have crossed the mountainous and ill-defined border to wage attacks against US, Afghan, and allied forces. They then would return to their safe havens in Pakistan, where they have had a long-standing relationship with the ISI, Islamabad's intelligence agency.

In a blunt assessment early last week, Gen. John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, said there have been no changes in Pakistan's support for militant networks.

He said Pakistani leaders went to Kabul and met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

"They identified certain steps that they were going to take. We've not yet seen those steps play out," General Nicholson told reporters in a recent briefing.

The US, he said, has been very direct about what it expects Pakistan to do in the fight against the Taliban.

"We're hoping to see those changes," he said. "We're hoping to work together with the Pakistanis going forward to eliminate terrorists who are crossing" between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Following Mattis' visit, Pakistan's prime minister's office released a statement noting that "no other country benefits from peace and stability in Afghanistan than Pakistan."

"The prime minister reiterated that there are no safe heavens in Pakistan and the entire nation was committed to its resolve on eradicating terrorism once and for all in all its forms and manifestations," according to Islamabad's statement on the meetings.

The White House, meanwhile, has previously condemned Pakistan's release late last month of a US-wanted militant as a "step in the wrong direction" and warned that it could harm Islamabad's relations with the US and its reputation around the world.

In August, the US said it would hold up $255 million in military assistance for Pakistan until it cracks down on extremists threatening Afghanistan.

Imtiaz Gul, an Islamabad security analyst, said US officials always come to Islamabad with their "own wish list."

"I am sure the US defense secretary is also carrying a wish list with him but I don't think Pakistan will accept any dictation as it has already demonstrated its seriousness in fighting terrorism, and Washington in recent weeks has appreciated and acknowledged Pakistan's sacrifices in war on terror," he said.

Mr. Gul said relations between Pakistan and the US have gone from bad to worse since the Trump administration announced Afghan strategy in which Pakistan was degraded and India was elevated.

"Pakistan is genuinely concerned," he said.

President Trump's tough words about Pakistan as he unveiled the updated US strategy for the war in Afghanistan, infuriated Islamabad and triggered anti-US protests there that Pakistani police had to use tear gas to disperse.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said during a visit to Washington in October that Pakistan was willing to cooperate fully with the Trump administration. He said Pakistan had wiped out militant hideouts with little help from the US.

Mattis' trip to Pakistan comes at the end of a short trip to the region, including stops in Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP Writer Ahmed Munir contributed to this story from Islamabad.

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