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Tillerson heads to Pakistan after US warning over Taliban safe havens

The secretary of state’s first visit to Pakistan comes weeks after US President Donald Trump angrily accused the country of harbouring “agents of chaos” that carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

world Updated: Oct 24, 2017 18:20 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Secretary of state Rex Tillerson,US-Pakistan relations,terrorism
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson (center) is greeted before boarding his plane for Pakistan on October 24, 2017 in Doha, Qatar. (AP)

Pakistani officials have said they don’t expect much to come out of US secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s visit to Islamabad on Tuesday, which follows increased pressure on the country for allegedly providing “safe havens” to the Taliban.

However, the officials were hopeful that the visit, Tillerson’s first to Pakistan since becoming secretary of state, would help cap deteriorating relations between the two sides.

Tillerson is also the first high-ranking official of the Trump administration to travel to Islamabad after President Donald Trump unveiled his new strategy for South Asia and Afghanistan in August.

“We will be asked to do more and not enough credit will be given to Pakistan for what it has done,” said a senior official, who did not want to be named.

The US has put emphasis on the use of force and pointed a finger at Pakistan for “not doing enough” against certain militant and terrorist groups.

According to a Foreign Office official, Tillerson’s visit will set the tone for future engagement between the two countries on bilateral and regional issues. Pakistan will take up the issue of what it calls India’s “aggressive posturing” over the past year.

At the same time, Pakistani officials conceded, terrorism will be the centre of the discussions.

Tillerson, who is set to meet Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the powerful army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, told reporters at Bagram air base on Monday that Pakistan needs to “take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organisations that find safe haven inside” the country.

Trump’s blistering speech in August accusing Pakistan of harbouring militants saw Islamabad angrily hit back at the claims, insisting they discount the thousands of lives lost and billions spent in fighting extremism.

Following the speech, Tillerson cautioned Pakistan that it could lose its status as a privileged military ally if it continued providing support to Afghan militant groups.

As one of 16 “Non-NATO Major Allies”, Pakistan benefits from billions of dollars in aid and has access to advanced US military technology banned from other countries.

The Pakistani media reported that while the US has its list of demands, Islamabad has its own grievances, ranging from the Trump administration’s attempts to undermine its sacrifices in the war against terrorism to giving India a greater role in Afghanistan.

There is, however, a feeling in Pakistan that although the demand for action against certain militant groups remains the same, there has been considerable change in the tone of the US administration after Pakistan rescued an American-Canadian couple that had been in Taliban captivity for five years.

Within days of the rescue, US and Afghan forces launched drone and conventional air strikes in Paktia and Khost provinces of Afghanistan. Umar Khalid Khurasani, the chief of the banned Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, was reportedly killed in one of those drone strikes.

A senior Foreign Office official said there has been greater emphasis on engagement now after the initial rhetoric from the Trump administration.

Earlier this month, foreign minister Khawaja Asif undertook a bilateral visit to the US. Then, a US interagency delegation comprising senior officials from the White House, state department and Pentagon visited Islamabad.

The engagement process is expected to continue as defence secretary James Mattis is set to travel to Islamabad after Tillerson’s visit.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Oct 24, 2017 14:38 IST