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How the Pakistani media reacted to Rex Tillerson’s tough talk on terrorism

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s first trip to Pakistan after assuming office was extensively covered by the local media.

world Updated: Oct 25, 2017 12:30 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Islamabad, Hindustan Times
Rex Tillerson,Pakistan,United States
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson speaks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during their meeting at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan October 23, 2017. (REUTERS)

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson delivered a tough message to Pakistan’s civil and military leadership to step up the fight against terrorists on the country’s soil while also noting Islamabad’s “incredibly important” role in tackling regional challenges, the Pakistani media reported on Wednesday.

Tillerson’s first trip to Pakistan after assuming office was extensively covered by the local media, with most dailies and TV channels speculating about the message the Pakistani leadership had been given and whether the visit would lead to improved relations between the two countries or a possible deterioration.

“Tillerson talks tough to ‘incredibly important’ Pakistan” was the headline on the front page of The Express Tribune while the influential Dawn newspaper headlined its report “Tillerson asks Islamabad to step up fight against terrorists”.

The Urdu daily Jang, Pakistan’s largest circulated paper, led its main story on a positive note: “Pakistan holds an important position for the US in the region.” The newspaper said that while the American delegation made some demands from the Pakistani leadership, it was appreciative of the country’s role in fighting terrorism.

The Dawn reported that Tillerson had reiterated President Donald Trump’s message that Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate terrorists operating on the country’s soil but noted that the top US diplomat’s “message appeared significantly toned down as compared to the usual American rhetoric on alleged terrorist sanctuaries”. However, it also said “in essence there was little difference in the messaging”.

The Express Tribune reported that Tillerson, during his meetings with the civil and military leadership on Tuesday, had pressed Pakistan to speed up its efforts against terrorism but described Islamabad as an “incredibly important” player to deal with some of the pressing challenges facing the region.

The daily noted that Tillerson’s agenda was wide-ranging, covering bilateral issues, the war on terror, Afghanistan and wider regional matters. Unlike the past, Tillerson did not interact with the media in a move that suggested he did not want to face tough questions, it added.

In contrast, The News daily headlined its report “Tillerson gets cold shoulder”. The newspaper reported that a mid-level Foreign Office official had received the American delegation, and the visit lacked the pomp and show usually associated with such arrivals by American officials.

This theme also figured in the reports by many news channels, including Geo News, with analysts saying that Pakistan wanted to show the US that its message to “do more” would not find favour this time round.

Leading analyst Mujib-ur Rehman Shami told Samaa TV that Tillerson’s visit was “nothing to worry about” as Pakistan and the US had been “playing cat and mouse games for over five decades now”.

He said the tension was a result of redrawing of some priorities on the side of the Americans. “All Pakistan is worried about is that its funding will be drastically cut,” he added.

The TV channels played a 30-second video, released by the Prime Minister’s Office, in which Tillerson could be heard telling premier Shahid Khaqan 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”.

In response, Abbasi said Pakistan is committed to the war against terror. “We have produced results and we are looking forward to moving ahead with the US and building a tremendous relationship,” he said.

Foreign minister Khawaja Asif said Pakistan’s civil and military leadership jointly met the American officials so that “one message goes to the Americans”.

But social media was not that welcoming.

#Tillersonnotwelcome was trending on Tuesday, with many social media activists insisting the US secretary of state should not dictate terms to Pakistan.

In a column that appeared on Wednesday in The News, writer Syed Ali Jaffery that while the US is not in a position to browbeat Pakistan, Islamabad should not entertain thoughts of riding on a high horse at the behest of allies.

First Published: Oct 25, 2017 11:31 IST