“Decision of aid suspension failed sofar to achieve objective, forcing Islamabad to change its policy of harbouring Haqqani Network”: US officials
WASHINGTON: Expressing disappointment of Trump administration, the US State Department has informed Congress that the Trump administration’s decision to suspend its security assistance to Pakistan has so far failed to achieve its objective: forcing Islamabad to change its policies.
Pakistan dominated part of Tuesday’s hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the administration’s new South Asia strategy, as both US officials and lawmakers acknowledged that Islamabad had a key role in bringing peace to Afghanistan.
The committee’s Republican chairman, Senator Robert Corker, brought Pakistan into the discussion in his opening remarks, praising the Trump administration’s Jan 4 decision to suspend US security aid to Pakistan. “This administration has also rightly drawn a clear line with Pakistan, suspending security assistance of over a billion as long as Islamabad continues to shelter Haqqani, and other terror groups that target innocent civilians, as well as US and allied forces,” he said.
“There certainly hasn’t been any change that we would consider final and irrevocable,” said Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, one of the two senior US officials who represented the administration at the hearing. “They have engaged in discussions with us, but there hasn’t been a sufficient amount of action yet such that we would be lifting that suspension of security assistance.” Asked if the Pakistanis knew what the US expected from them, Mr Sullivan said: “They understand what we expect, our suspension of security assistance continues until we see more evidence that they are in fact taking action”. Randall G. Schriver Assistant Secretary, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, US Department of Defence, however, told the committee that Washington believes Pakistan was not just an important partner but “they’re absolutely key to our strategy succeeding”.
He said that during a recent visit to Islamabad, US Secretary of Defence James Mattis made clear Washington’s “interest in continuing to partner with them,” but he also “made clear that we must see a change in Pakistan’s behaviour in particular areas where we have great concerns”. Earlier at the hearing, Mr Sullivan also read out a written statement, stating that the US could resume security assistance to Pakistan if Islamabad takes “decisive and sustained” actions against all terrorist groups in the country.
But the statement also added new conditions for rebuilding US ties with Pakistan, which may not be acceptable to Islamabad, such as seeking more restraint in Pakistan’s military nuclear and missile programmes and closer alignment of the country’s nonproliferation policies with those of the US. “We also encourage restraint in Pakistan’s military nuclear and missile programmes, and seek continued, closer alignment of Pakistan’s non-proliferation policies with our own,” he said. Mr Sullivan explained that the strategy that President Donald Trump announced in August last year was a conditions-based approach instead of one predicated on arbitrary timelines.
The new approach marks a change from the status quo in US Pakistan relations by holding Pakistan accountable for its failure to deny alleged sanctuary to militant proxies, he added. Mr Sullivan also said that the US was committed to doing its part to reduce tensions in the region in ways that addressed Pakistan’s legitimate concerns. “To be clear, we oppose the use of terrorist proxies by any country against another country, anywhere in the world.
The use of terrorism has no place in a rules based international system,” he said. This is an indirect reference to complaints from both Kabul and Islamabad about the existence of terrorist sanctuaries on each other’s territories. Pakistan has submitted evidence to both US and Afghan officials to support its claim that TTP and other terrorist groups have moved to Afghanistan and use their sanctuaries there for carrying out attacks inside Pakistan. But the State Department does not address Islamabad’s other complaint that India’s increasing influence in Afghanistan also threatens its security as India has contacts with Afghanistan based terrorist groups and encourages them to carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
Operations inside Pakistan Meanwhile, a senior US general has assured Islamabad that the United States is not planning to conduct military operations inside Pakistan. Another general said that despite differences Pakistan remains “absolutely critical” to America’s success in Afghanistan, while the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson urged Islamabad to join US efforts to defeat terrorists in the South Asian region. “We actually don’t contemplate military operations inside Pakistan,” US Joint Staff Director Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie said at a Pentagon news briefing on Thursday afternoon.
“On the other hand, we recognise — because the strategy is inherently regional and Pakistan is geographically located at a critical nexus of a lot of different things — Pakistan is a fundamental part of the strategy,” he added. The assurances followed a White House statement on Tuesday, saying that the US military had been given authority to eliminate militant safe havens in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The statement alarmed Islamabad and Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan told the Urdu service of Voice of America (VOA), that he took the statement “very seriously”.
“We want to make it clear to the US that Pakistan is a sovereign country and its sovereignty must be respected,” he said. “Instead of using these words, which can be interpreted in any way, Pakistan should be consulted.” The defence minister also said that statements like this were “taking us away from peace in Afghanistan”. At the Pentagon news briefing, a journalist asked Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie to explain the White House statement, which he said was interpreted in the Pakistani media as saying that the US could possibly strike inside of Pakistan.
“Through a variety of measures, we look to gain Pakistani cooperation and assistance as we pursue operations in Afghanistan,” said the general while explaining how the US strategy for South Asia plans to deal with Pakistan. “But no, we’re not planning to conduct military operations inside Pakistan.” Pentagon chief spokesperson Dana W. White said the strategy had created an opportunity for Pakistan to cooperate with the US in defeating the terrorists operating in the region.“We’ve said many times that — that Pakistan has an opportunity. It has been a victim of terrorism, and it has supported terrorism. And we are looking for Pakistan to actively join — it can do the things we need them to do to confront terrorism,” she said. “So, it’s an inflection point, it’s an opportunity, and we hope Pakistan will take it.” Ms White, however, said that she did not agree with the assessment of some Pakistani officials that the US had failed in Afghanistan and that’s why it was blaming Pakistan. “We haven’t failed,” she said. Asked if she saw a link between the rise of terrorist attacks in Kabul and the US decision to suspend military aid to Pakistan, Ms White said: “The Taliban is desperate.
They’re murderous and they attack innocent civilians.” At a separate briefing arranged by the US State Department’s Dubai Regional Media Hub, US Central Command chief Gen Joseph Votel said on Wednesday that Pakistan remained “absolutely critical” to the success of America’s South Asia security strategy. The Arab News reported that Gen Votel said the new South Asia strategy required the partnership of not just Afghanistan, but of all countries in the region, and Pakistan was a key part of that region. “We have had our differences with Pakistan over the years on this, but Pakistan remains absolutely critical to the solution of the problem in Afghanistan,” he said.