U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has arrived in Pakistan for a visit in which he says he will urge Islamabad to do more to deny safe havens to terrorists.
Tillerson was scheduled to meet with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif during his day-long visit in Islamabad on October 24.
Speaking to journalists at Bagram Airfield in neighboring Afghanistan on October 23, Tillerson said it was “imperative” that “any terrorist organizations or any extremists” are denied safe havens.
“This is very much a regional effort,” Tillerson said. “So we’re demanding others also deny safe haven to terrorists anywhere in the region. We are working closely with Pakistan in that regard as well.”
In August, President Donald Trump announced a new U.S. policy and strategy for South Asia as the Western-backed government in Kabul is struggling to beat back insurgents in the wake of the exit of most NATO forces in 2014.
Trump accused Pakistan of supporting "agents of chaos" and suggested that his administration would impose further cuts to U.S. aid for Pakistan if Islamabad doesn't do more to rein in Taliban militants and other extremist groups within its borders -- particularly in the tribal regions along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
Trump’s allegations have strained relations between Islamabad and Washington. Pakistan denies that it harbors terrorists and has said the United States is using Islamabad as a "scapegoat" for its own failure to win the 16-year war in Afghanistan.
But Pakistani officials now say that Islamabad is looking for a reengagement with Washington after the disruption that followed Trump's strategy announcement.
“We have made some very specific requests of Pakistan in order for them to take action to undermine the support that the Taliban receives and other terrorist organizations receive in Pakistan,” Tillerson said on October 23.
“In this whole strategy, this is a conditions-based approached, and so our relationship with Pakistan will also be conditions-based,” Tillerson said. “It will be based upon whether they take action that we feel is necessary to move the process forward of both creating the opportunity for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan, but also ensuring a stable future Pakistan.”
Tillerson said the United States is “as concerned about the future stability of Pakistan” as it is with Afghanistan.
“Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they’re confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organizations that find safe haven inside of Pakistan,” he said.
Tillerson also said he would speak to Pakistani officials about Washington’s changing relationship with India, Pakistan’s archrival in South Asia.
The two nuclear-armed neighbors have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and have not engaged in any high-level political dialogue for nearly two years.
“I think our view of the relationship with India is one that’s of strategic importance not just for this specific region, but in the context of…a free and open Indo-Pacific region stretching all the way from Japan to India,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson is scheduled to arrive in New Delhi late on October 24 after his stop in Pakistan. He is scheduled to meet with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi on October 25.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa