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Top US general in Afghanistan sees no change in Pakistan’s ‘behaviour’

Gen John Nicholson said it has been more than 100 days since US President Donald Trump announced his South Asia strategy, which demanded Pakistan stop sheltering terrorists.

world Updated: Dec 01, 2017 15:05 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Gen John Nicholson,US President Donald Trump,Afghanistan
US Army General John Nicholson, commander of Resolute Support forces and US forces in Afghanistan, speaks to Afghan police special forces personnel after they took part in a military exercise in Logar province in Afghanistan on November 30, 2017.(Reuters)

More than 100 days after US President Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy put Pakistan on notice by demanding it stop sheltering terrorists, America’s top general in Afghanistan said a course correction was yet to be seen.

Asked if Pakistan’s behaviour has changed since the unveiling of Trump’s strategy, Gen John Nicholson said: “In terms of changes thus far this year, again, policy was announced (on) August 21, it’s now a hundred days later. So, no, we haven’t seen those changes yet.

“We’ve had a lot of senior-level engagement — secretary of state (Rex Tillerson), Gen (Joseph) Votel (who heads the US central command, which deals with Pakistan). We’ve had senior delegations from the state department and national security council travel over there as well. They’ve all met with the Pakistani leadership.

“Pakistani leadership has come to Kabul and met with President (Ashraf) Ghani. They identified certain steps that they were going to take. We’ve not yet seen those steps play out.”

To a question about where he believes the Taliban leadership is based, he said the tactical-level leadership is in the field in Afghanistan, but “there’s a reason that the two leadership centres of the Taliban are called the Quetta Shura and the Peshawar Shura. Those are cities in Pakistan. So I’d say the senior leadership still resides in Pakistan”.

Pakistan’s obduracy hasn’t gone unnoticed.“There is very little patience in this White House and the administration for Pakistan and it must be careful not to waste it,” an official said on condition of anonymity.

A good example is Hafiz Saeed — a week after the US called for the “immediate re-arrest” of the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief by threatening Pakistan with “repercussions”, the terrorist mastermind remains free and has launched an improbable bid to have himself struck off UN list of terrorists.

Asked about the timeline given to Pakistan for re-arresting Saeed, a spokesperson for the national security council told Hindustan Times: “We will be discussing (this issue) with the Pakistanis in private”.

There is speculation that defence secretary James Mattis might be the one to carry out this “private” discussion when he visits Pakistan, likely to take place next week.

“He might as a former military man and a general have a heart-to-heart with Pakistani generals and impress upon the need to step up their counter-terrorism measures,” said a South Asian diplomat.

Mattis had told lawmakers at a hearing in October, weeks after Trump’s South Asia policy launch, that the US would “try one more time to make this strategy work with them, by, with and through the Pakistanis, and if our best efforts fail, the president is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary”.

And asked if withdrawing Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally could be among the options being considered to deal with Pakistan, he had said, “I am sure it will be”.

First Published: Dec 01, 2017 15:05 IST