KARACHI: Pakistani policymakers have put together their agenda for talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who will arrive in Islamabad on his maiden visit later this month to enlist “Pakistan’s help for American effort to reach a peaceful solution in Afghanistan”.
Tillerson’s trip comes amid an uptick in Taliban violence in Afghanistan where US-led coalition forces have been battling to quell an increasingly bloody insurgency since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001.
President Donald Trump’s top foreign policy aide would be told that Pakistan is willing to further strengthen the intelligence information sharing mechanism with the US in consonance with its national security, according to the agenda shared with Daily Express.
“He [Tillerson] will be told that only Pakistani security forces will conduct counterterrorism operations on its soil – and that a joint operation with American or Afghan forces is out of question,” a source said.
Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, who recently toured the US, said in a television interview that Pakistan has offered the United States a joint operation against terrorists on its soil. However, he later clarified that he never said Pakistan could allow foreign boots on ground.
According to sources, Pakistani officials have prioritised the issues to be taken up with Tillerson which include the recent strain in Pak-US ties; President Trump’s new Afghan strategy; Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process; and Pakistan’s reservations on India’s role in Afghanistan, etc.
Top government functionaries would also tell President Trump’s aide that the American policy of pushing Pakistan to ‘do more’ must end as no other country has done as much as Pakistan has in the global war against terrorism. “It would also be conveyed to Tillerson that Pakistan wants to promote relationship with the US on the basis of sovereign equality,” a second source told Daily Express.
The Pakistani side would stress the need for intelligence sharing in the fight against terrorists. The Americans would be asked to share actionable intelligence on terrorists on Pakistan’s soil, and Pakistani forces would take action against them.
US and Afghan officials allege that the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban faction responsible for some the most deadliest attacks in Afghanistan, maintains safe havens inside Pakistan – an allegation Islamabad vehemently denies.
Sources said that Pakistani officials would also ask Tillerson to impress upon the administration of President Ashraf Ghani to dismantle the sanctuaries of terrorists who are using the Afghan soil as a launching pad for mounting attacks inside Pakistan. Though Kabul denies any sanctuaries of Pakistani terrorists on its soil, but Omar Khalid Khorasani, the chief of TTP-Jamaatul Ahrar, was killed in a US drone strike in eastern Afghan province of Paktia earlier this month.
Pakistan would also called for revitalising and reenergising the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) for finding a political solution to the insurgency in Afghanistan, sources said. The quartet, which is made up of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States, met on October 16 in Oman after a long hiatus in an effort to resurrect the moribund Afghan peace process.
President Trump’s Afghan strategy envisages a greater role for Pakistan’s arch-rival India in Afghanistan. But Tillerson would be told that Islamabad could never reconcile to this idea because it is convinced that New Delhi wants to use the Afghan soil to destabilise Pakistan.
The multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is also expected to come up for discussion during Tillerson’s visit. US Defence Secretary James Mattis said last week during a hearing of the US Senate Armed Services Committee that CPEC runs through a disputed territory — an allegation originally levelled by India to thwart the project.
The Pakistani side, according to sources, would make it clear to Tillerson that CPEC is very important project for the development of its economy and for regional connectivity and hence any attempt to make it controversial would not be acceptable.
Sources said that Tillerson’s visit is very significant as it would clarify Trump’s policy and set course for future Islamabad-Washington relations.