U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis held counterterrorism talks with Pakistani officials in Islamabad on December 4. His visit follows warnings by senior U.S. military and intelligence officials that Islamabad has yet to dismantle terrorist sanctuaries on its soil in line with President Donald Trump’s Afghanistan and South Asia strategy. Islamabad, however, seems keen on attributing Washington’s warning as a sign of its frustration and the difference of perception between the two capitals on Afghanistan.
Speaking to RFE/RL Radio Mashaal, leading analyst and author Ahmed Rashid discusses the challenges ahead and potential sanctions the U.S. government may impose on Pakistan.
RFE/RL: Is it really a perception issue or has Pakistan not fulfilled Trump’s request to wipe out the alleged terrorists’ safe havens?
Ahmed Rashid: Definitely, there is growing tension between Pakistan and the United States. All NATO allies have been pushing Islamabad to curb the presence and role of the Haqqani network and Taliban leadership in Pakistan. The impatience is growing. The Trump administration has already given December as a deadline for Pakistan to do something. I think the expectation now is to wait and see if there will be penalties imposed on Pakistan.
RFE/RL: The Pakistani military say there are no militant hideouts in Pakistan. Do you believe that?
Rashid: Well, if you look at what happened recently in Pakistan when fundamentalist groups protested in Islamabad while blackmailing and threatening the government, there is no shortage of extremists in Pakistan itself, which has still not cleared out. As far as the Haqqani network is concerned, there is a lot of logistical support from these extremist groups given to Haqqanis inside Pakistan. A lot of the logistics this terror network uses in Afghanistan are coming from this part of the world. So, I do believe the Afghan Taliban are still very active in Pakistan. They get a lot of their recruits, support, and help from the Pakistani side of the border, not necessarily from the government side but from their Pakistani sympathizers and supporters.
RFE/RL: What are Pakistan’s options? In the past, Pakistani officials have confessed having influence on the Taliban leader. Can and will they help bring the group to negotiations for peace talks?
Rashid: It all depends on the intentions of the Pakistani military. The army runs the foreign policy. At the moment, we see no indication that the military is going to change track. In fact, if you look at the fundamentalists’ recent demonstration in Islamabad, the military has allowed them while forcing the government to settle some amount for those going home. The agreement that the government is forced to sign with the extremist protesters is a very dangerous agreement because it sets a precedent for the future. It is all in favor of the extremists.
RFE/RL: Keeping this scenario in mind, do you think the Pakistani Army will stop running foreign policy and meddling in the country’s politics anytime soon?
Rashid: No. That is not happening at all. I think they have the most predominant, powerful, and effective role in politics at the moment.