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Top US general accuses Pakistan’s ISI of ties with terror groups

The US will “try one more time” to work with Pakistan to end its support for terrorists as it implements its new policy for South Asia.

world Updated: Oct 04, 2017 14:47 IST
Yashwant Raj and Agencies
Yashwant Raj and Agencies
Hindustan Times, Washington
secretary of defense James Mattis,Gen Joseph Dunford,terrorism
US defence secretary Jim Mattis (left) and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Joseph Dunford (right), testify during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on October 3, 2017. The committee held a hearing on the "Political and Security Situation in Afghanistan". (AFP)

The US has said it will “try one more time” to work with Pakistan to end its support for terrorists even as a top American general accused the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of having ties to terror groups.

Defence secretary James Mattis told a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the US strategy for South Asia that America and its allies plan to present Pakistan with a list of what it must to do “change its behavior”, with the warning that non-compliance could include revoking its status as a major non-NATO ally.

In a separate Senate hearing on Tuesday, Marine Corps Gen Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believed Pakistan’s main spy agency had ties to terror groups.

“It is clear to me that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mattis said, “We need to try one more time to make this strategy work with them, by, with and through the Pakistanis, and if our best efforts fail, President (Donald) Trump is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary.”

Asked if those steps could include revoking Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, which comes with certain military benefits conferred on it by the US in 2004 in return for its cooperation in the war in Afghanistan, Mattis simply said, “I am sure it will be.”

Mattis further said he would be traveling to Islamabad soon, but did not give more details.

The Trump administration has made clear it intends to get tough with Pakistan on its support for terrorists. Unveiling a new Afghanistan-centric South Asia policy in August, Trump had said, “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations.”

Frustration has been mounting in the US with Pakistan’s dodgy record on counter-terrorism and its use of groups sheltering on its soil as a tool of its foreign policy. Lawmakers and officials have tried everything from name-calling – “duplicitous” and “frenemy” – to tying up aid for its fight against terror.

Just this past week, the US Senate passed the defence budget that made some payments to Pakistan conditional on it acting against the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which targets India, and the Haqqani Network, which is active in Afghanistan.

In their testimonies before the armed services committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Mattis and Dunford reinforced the new US line on Pakistan and spoke of the need for a lasting change in its behaviour.

Mattis sought to differentiate between the Pakistan government, which he said wanted to crack down on terrorism, and the ISI, which “appears to be running its own foreign policy” – implying the agency was not on board on the issue of counter-terrorism.

Mattis, who was recently in India and Afghanistan to discuss the new South Asia strategy, did not give a timeline for the plan to approach Pakistan.

Right now, the state, defence and treasury departments and intelligence services are working on the plan that the US would be “aligning” with its allies, he said. He did not say how it will be delivered, though he indicated he would be visiting Islamabad soon.

To questions about Pakistan undertaking temporary changes only to go back its old ways, Mattis said, “We don’t want transient and temporary changes.” Islamabad must understand that while there are significant advantages to changing, “penalties are just as significant” if it chose to go the other way.

The Pakistan embassy in Washington said Islamabad had achieved success in counter-terror operations. “However, unless the same level of success is achieved in (Afghanistan), long lasting peace in the region will remain out of reach,” the embassy said in a statement.

First Published: Oct 04, 2017 13:31 IST