ISLAMABAD: US Defence Secretary James Mattis held talks with the Pakistani civil and military leadership on Monday and the outcome of the meetings suggests that the way is being paved for the two sides to find a “common ground” for cooperation in the war in Afghanistan.
As Mattis treaded lightly during his visit, he was told that Pakistan had been prepared to look into the possibility of “miscreants” exploiting Islamabad’s hospitality to Afghan refugees, while on his part he agreed to look into Pakistan’s “legitimate concerns”, including India’s growing footprint in Afghanistan.
Although the underlying message from Mattis echoed the larger concern of President Donald Trump administration about Pakistan’s role in the fight against terrorism, the defence secretary’s tone was not as harsh as some of the statements given by other American officials.
A US embassy statement issued after Mattis’ meeting with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and separate talks with Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Headquarters (GHQ), the defence secretary reiterated that Pakistan must “redouble its efforts to confront militants and terrorists operating within the country”.
However, unlike the embassy statement, an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) hand-out gave a detailed account of what transpired between the army chief and the US defence secretary.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi today chaired a meeting to review progress on construction of the road infrastructure and allied works for Metro Bus Services connecting the capital with the new Islamabad International Airport (NIIA). pic.twitter.com/tGQzzgYTLw— PTV News (@PTVNewsOfficial) December 4, 2017
The ISPR statement also reflected Mattis’ concern, but the choice of words was different. It said Mattis highlighted concerns that a few elements continued to use Pakistan’s territory to further their terrorist agenda in Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister’s Office also issued a separate statement. The real business, nevertheless, appeared to have been discussed at the GHQ parleys. The military’s media wing said Mattis made it clear that the aim of his visit was not to make any demands but find common grounds to work together.
The ISPR said the meeting focused on regional security with particular emphasis on Afghanistan as well as other matters of mutual interest. While insisting that Pakistan had eliminated safe havens from its soil, the army chief told Mattis: “We are prepared to look into the possibility of miscreants exploiting Pakistan’s hospitality to Afghan refugees to the detriment of our Afghan brothers.”
The army chief acknowledged the history of US engagements with Pakistan, especially the on-going efforts for peace in the region. He said Pakistan had done much more than its due share despite the capacity constraints and would remain committed to peace as a responsible member of international community.
Bajwa reiterated Pakistan’s support for peace and stability in the region and highlighted Pakistan’s concerns over Indian use of Afghan soil, the need for Afghan refugees’ respectable and early repatriation and the existence of terrorist safe havens across the border in Afghanistan.
Mattis expressed his respect for the Pakistan armed forces and the effective operations undertaken against terrorists. He assured the US was ready to play its role in addressing Pakistan’s legitimate concerns, saying that his aim was not to make demands but find common grounds to work together.
The army chief appreciated the defence secretary’s understanding of the underlying issues and emphasised that Pakistan did not require anything from the US but an understanding. Both sides agreed to work towards specific and sustained actions on each other’s concerns.
Jim Mattis to visit Pakistan on Dec 4 for talks with civil-military leadership
The embassy statement said Mattis recognised Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war against terrorism. “The secretary emphasised the vital role that Pakistan can play in working with the United States and others to facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan that brings stability and security to the region,” it said.
Separately, meeting with Prime Minister Abbasi, the US Defence Secretary underscored the importance of continuing and deepening cooperation for the common objective of eliminating terrorism from the region.
Mattis told Abbasi that in view of his long association with Pakistan, he was aware of the sacrifices rendered and the lives lost in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and extremism; and his personal respect and appreciation for the professional abilities of Pakistan’s armed forces.
Recalling Pakistan’s longstanding relationship with the US, Abbasi stressed the need for a broad-based engagement to strengthen the partnership and enhance cooperation between the two countries.
He agreed with Secretary Mattis that both Pakistan and the US have common stakes in securing peace and security in Afghanistan for the long-term stability of the region. The prime minister also appreciated the US resolve not to allow the use of Afghan soil against Pakistan.
Highlighting the recent counter-terrorism operations to improve the law and order situation, the PM noted that Pakistan, in its national interest, would continue to conduct intelligence-based operations all over the country to consolidate the gains achieved in the last four years.
He reiterated that there are no safe havens in Pakistan and the entire nation was committed to its resolve on eradicating terrorism once and for all in all its forms and manifestations.
No pressure tactic
Earlier, en route to Pakistan, Mattis told reporters he would not use pressure as a tactic, and insisted he would do "some listening". When asked if he would "prod" Islamabad to take more action, he replied: "That's not the way I deal with issues. I believe that we work hard on finding the common ground, and then we work together, so that's the approach I want to take."
Asked if he saw any indication that Pakistan was “open to do more”, Mattis replied in the affirmative. He referred to the army chief’s visit to Kabul in recent months, saying: “I would look at General Bajwa’s statements about Pakistan taking the lead on certain issues.”
(With additional input from news desk)
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