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Category — PAK-US-AFGHAN TIES

Chaman and Torkham: Plan to build modern check posts suffers setback

By Shahbaz Rana in The Express Tribune, Oct 31, 2017
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has decided to reduce the scope of construction work on two modern check posts that will be set up along the border with Afghanistan after the sole bidder quoted $480 million for setting up the state-of-the-art facilities for cross-border movement of goods and people.

The $480 million price quoted by the National Logistics Cell – the military’s construction arm – was 185% higher than the originally conceived rates for establishing the state-of-the-art facilities at Chaman and Torkham borders.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) that is providing $250 million loan for the project had estimated the cost roughly at $168 million.
“Due to a higher than the originally conceived cost, the military and civilian authorities have decided to change the scope and design of the project, making it more immediate needs-oriented,” according to officials.

The total cost of the project was $300 million, including the $50 million share of the government of Pakistan that will also have to look for additional financing sources owing to the higher cost of construction.

Because of change in the scope and design, the project faces a delay of about one year, in addition to escalation in its original price.

Pakistan is paying commitment charges at the rate of 0.15% on the undisbursed loan amount, which is common in almost every other ADB-funded project.

In December 2015, the ADB had approved $250 million loan for the construction of three facilities at Chaman and Torkham along the border with Afghanistan and at the Wagah crossing point on India border.

The loan became effective in December last year and since then the country has been paying the commitment charges.

Due to the scheme’s strategic nature, the government has set up the Integrated Transit Trade Management System Steering Committee headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. Ministers for foreign affairs, defence, railways, communication and commerce are its members.

The committee acts as the highest decision-making authority for project implementation and provides overall guidance for all agencies involved in the implementation of the project.

The expected impact of the project is to increase value of export, import and transit trade, in addition to a smooth cross-border movement of citizens from Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

As part of the Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) initiative for trade facilitation, the project will also help the CAREC countries take advantage of more efficient trade routes through Pakistan.

The government has initially decided to complete work on Torkham and Chaman border check posts and engaged the NLC due to security concerns.

The ADB and Pakistani authorities had estimated the total cost of constructing the three facilities at $251.2 million, according to the project documents.

But the NLC quoted the bid price at $480 million for carrying out work on two check posts along the border with Afghanistan, according to officials involved in the project execution.

Torkham and Chaman are major transit stations for the Afghan Transit Trade. Over 80% of the Afghan transit cargo flows through Torkham while the remaining through Chaman, according to the ADB’s assessment.

The ADB had given a special waiver to allow the NLC to bid for the project as the military’s construction arm does not fulfil the Manila-based lending agency’s procurement guidelines.

As per the guidelines, only those government-owned enterprises can participate as a bidder which are legally and financially autonomous, and operate under commercial laws.

The NLC is not a legally autonomous body, although it enjoys partial financial autonomy and is managerially independent. However, the entity has the expertise in managing cross-border terminals and dry ports.

The ADB agreed to give the waiver due to the precarious security situation along the border with Afghanistan.

“After lowering of requirements, the NLC has reduced its bid to $340 million,” Project Director Dr Mohammad Zubair told The Express Tribune. He said the bidder would further lower the price after reviewing the revised design.

“We hope that the final price of engineering, procurement and construction work will be close to the portfolio of the project,” said the project director.

He said the original construction estimates were based on a conceptual design that had been prepared three years ago.

“The NLC’s original bid was based on detailed design of the project,” he said. “Despite change in the scope and requirements, the posts will meet all necessary needs of the present time.”

Dr Zubair hoped that the engineering, procurement and construction contracts of the Torkham check post would be awarded by February next year and for Chaman by March.

However, the project documents showed that the original implementation period on those check posts had to be started in July 2016 and completed by December 2021.

He said work for the construction of a similar check post at Wagah border crossing point would be awarded before June next year on the international competitive bidding basis.
https://tribune.com.pk/story/1545697/1-chaman-torkham-plan-build-modern-check-posts-suffers-setback/

October 31, 2017   No Comments

Hafiz Saeed’s name not on Pak list of 75 militants given to the US

Report in The Express Tribune, Oct 26, 2017
News Desk : Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said on Wednesday that Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed’s name was not on the list of 75 militants the US had handed over to Pakistan.

“The Haqqani network is on the top of the list but none of the militants are Pakistanis,” Asif told senators during a session of the parliament’s upper house, Express News reported.

The minister said the US had been told that Pakistan no longer had influence over the Afghan Taliban as it did in the past.

“Neither are we supporting them [Afghan Taliban], nor do they need our help,” he added. “Somebody else is sponsoring them now.”

Asif asserted that many of the key Taliban names were now shadow governors in Afghanistan or no longer alive.

On his maiden visit to Islamabad on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, while renewing the US demand seeking action against Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, said many of the solutions to the regional challenges have to be found in Pakistan.

He pressed Pakistan to speed up its efforts against terrorism but described Islamabad as ‘incredibly important’ player to deal with some of the pressing challenges facing the region.

October 26, 2017   No Comments

Too many terrorists find a ‘safe place’ in Pakistan, Rex Tillerson says

By Annie Gowen in The Washington Post, Oct 25, 2017 at 10:02 AM
NEW DELHI — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that “too many terrorist organizations” find refuge in Pakistan and reiterated his call for the country to do more to address a rising problem of terrorism within its borders that, he said, threatensto destabilize Pakistan itself.

“There are too many terrorist organizations that find a safe place in Pakistan from which to conduct their operations and attacks against other countries,” Tillerson said, speaking in India’s capital on the final stop of a tour through the Middle East and Asia. The terrorist groups’ growing strength and capability “can lead to a threat to Pakistan’s own stability,” Tillerson said.

At a news conference at India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Tillerson said that during a meeting with Pakistan’s interim prime minister, its army chief and other leaders on Tuesday in Islamabad, he had outlined “certain expectations” of “mechanisms of cooperation” that Pakistan must fulfill to address the problem or face U.S. reprisals. Pakistan’s government has long denied the existence of safe havens for terrorist groups.

Later, Tillerson met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two discussed terrorism and regional security, according to a statement from the ministry.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands before their meeting in New Delhi on Oct. 25, 2017. (Alex Brandon/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistan has been mired in political turmoil since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the country’s Supreme Court in a financial scandal in July. His close ally, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, is serving as interim prime minister.

Tillerson’s arrival in India — his first trip to the country as secretary of state — comes at a time when the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is increasingly under strain and the Trump administration seeks a closer relationship with its “natural ally” India, the world’s most populous democracy and one of the United States’ biggest arms buyers.

The warm welcome for Tillerson in India — where he toured a memorial to Mohandas Gandhi, the revered leader of the country’s independence movement — was a contrast to the chilly reception he had received in Pakistan’s capital the day before. There, one prominent politician said Tillerson was “acting like a viceroy,” a reference to leaders of the British Raj.

India’s minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, echoed Tillerson’s criticism of Pakistan. Recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan “are proof that safe havens and supporters of terrorism are active,” she said. “Pakistan needs to act on this.”

Swaraj also said she and Tillerson discussed India’s relationship with North Korea. India maintains an embassy in Pyongyang but has moved to put new limits on trade. Swaraj said she told Tillerson that the embassy should remain “so that some channels of communication are kept open.”

Earlier this month, in a major policy speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Tillerson spoke of India and the United States as “bookends of stability on either side of the globe” amid the global terrorist threat, North Korea’s nuclear posturing and Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.

“This is a signal to India that despite Trump’s penchant to jettison or discard Obama policies, there will be a certain amount of continuity in the relationship,” said C. Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies in New Delhi.

Pakistan is a concern, Bhaskar said. “But the big ticket is China, and what kind of Asia is in the best interests of both India and the U.S. in the long term. He spoke of 100 years.”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/tillerson-says-too-many-terrorist-organizations-find-refuge-in-pakistan/2017/10/25/b00fffd4-b90f-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html

October 26, 2017   No Comments

Chest-thumping and jingoism: By Syed Ali Zia Jaffery in The News, Oct 25, 2017

The writer is a research analyst and sub-editor at the Global Village Space.
Moments after penning-down a piece on US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson’s upcoming visit to Pakistan, I scanned through my Twitter timeline. Unsurprisingly, my optimism about betterment in the ‘transactional’ nature of ties between Islamabad and Washington soon died down when I read a tweet which said: “Tillerson is not welcome in Pakistan.”

The tweet was retweeted, quoted and liked by a good number of people. While many may subscribe to such emotional enunciations, there is little room for these quirks in high-level diplomacy. Unfortunately, not only ordinary citizens like the author of the tweet but the too is afflicted with the tendency of conducting diplomacy through instincts and emotions.

Days after ticking all the right boxes in his maiden campaign at the UNGA, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi boisterously asserted that Pakistan is not dependent on the US for meeting its defence requirements, something that is not within the purview of this piece. Abbasi’s assertion fit well with Pakistan’s defiant response to Trump’s strategy address in which he berated Pakistan for its support to inimical elements which are challenging US war-efforts in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s unified response given mainly through the National Security Committee has, thus far been based on two factors. First, Pakistan and other observers believe that the US is losing its leverage over Islamabad. Second, Pakistan firmly believes that its Chinese allies will help it amid mounting US pressure.

While there is a strong case for policymakers to ‘borrow courage’ from allies, especially China, there is a need to understand the nuances of international relations. States pander to their national interests in an anarchical world order. China is doing – and will do – the same. But this was lost on most Pakistanis who felt betrayed when the Xiamen Declaration was passed last month in which China, much to the delight of Delhi included the names of Kashmiri militant outfits in the list of those which have plagued the region of terrorism. Though, there was nothing outrageous in the Brics statement, China made one thing absolutely clear: it doesn’t want any hurdles in its OBOR initiative of which CPEC is an important project.

Those who were talking about pulling the plug on ties with the US by eliciting Chinese support were shocked as to how and why China, despite being recently embroiled in a tiff at Doklam, could agree to include an Indian version on terrorism in the Xiamen Declaration. However, the despondency was soon supplanted with a renewed wave of chest-thumping when China lauded Pakistan’s for its efforts against terrorism while agreeing to its idea of a political settlement of the Afghan imbroglio.

The problem that Pakistan faces in conducting inter-state ties is due to its constricted appreciation of the nuances of international politics. Stuck at zero-sum diplomacy, Islamabad fails to engage states at multiple levels. The détente that looked possible after Abbasi’s deft diplomacy with the US during the 72nd session UNGA seemed untenable after General Mattis said that CPEC passes through the ‘disputed’ northern areas of Pakistan. Seen as blatant support for the Indian narrative, the statement forced Pakistan to call upon the US to stop looking at the multi-billion dollar project through the prism of India.

Mattis’ statement again drew a great deal of ire from all quarters in Pakistan; social media was filled with anti-US diatribes. The wrist-slitting ended when Pakistani forces acted swiftly upon actionable intelligence provided by the US and rescued the Coleman-Boyle family. The ensuing bonhomie is positive but again it is being wrongly perceived as a precursor to the establishment of strategic ties with the US.

However, let’s make no mistake about one important thing: Pakistan and the US are not strategic partners; in fact, they never were. Stints of friendliness were followed by those of open disregard. In the cold-war era, both countries gained a lot from the partnership – the details of which merit another essay. Beyond the world of social media activism and chest-thumping, there is a great room for deft and assiduous diplomacy.

Writing for another publication, I stressed:” Tweets and video messages are by no means tantamount to the resolution of thorny issues. Whether we like it or not, our arch-nemesis in India has positioned itself in a way that it fits in the US’ strategy for the region. The US can continue to praise and court Pakistan while pandering to Indian strategic interests; this is perfectly in line with the cruelty of international politics. It is upon Pakistan to broaden its worldview and get out of its long-held belief about zero-sum diplomacy.”

Jingoism is inimical to the very concept of patriotism, especially when embedded in state policies. Indeed, the US is not in a position to browbeat Pakistan. However, Pakistan must not entertain thoughts on riding on a high horse on the behest of allies. Diplomacy thrives on creating chances to pushing forward interests. Let’s use this ‘week of goodwill’ to impress upon the US to address Pakistan’s legitimate and veritable concerns in the region.http://thenews.com.pk/print/239490-Chest-thumping-and-jingoism

October 25, 2017   No Comments

Partnership linked to new strategy, US tells Pakistan

by SHAFQAT ALI in The Nation, Oct 25, 2017
ISLAMABAD – The United States on Tuesday pressed Pakistan to accept President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan policy – with a greater role for India – if it desired partnership with Washington, The Nation has learnt.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who visited Islamabad, made it clear to Pakistan’s civil and military leadership that his country would not change its Afghan policy on Islamabad’s demand, officials privy to the meeting told The Nation.

“Tillerson was straightforward in telling us that the only way out for Pakistan [if it wanted to continue partnership with Washington] is to accept new policies of the US . Tillerson emphasised the US wanted India’s engagement on the Afghan issue,” said one official, adding the US asked Pakistan to go for the kill against all terror outfits.

Tillerson, who was not accorded a rousing welcome when he landed in Islamabad ostensibly for his aggressive statements before flying to Pakistan , was firm that Pakistan needed to “do more” to improve the Pak-US trust level.

The top US envoy faced Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan, Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa, Inter-Services Intelligence chief Naveed Mukhtar, secretary to PM Mussadiq Malik, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and other officials on one table as he led his own delegation including Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale.

A US embassy statement issued after the meeting said, during his inaugural trip to Pakistan as secretary of state, Tillerson “reiterated President Trump’s message that Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within the country.”

The US statement said to address those concerns, “the secretary outlined the United States’ new South Asia Strategy and the vital role that Pakistan can play in working with the United States and others [in all probability India] to facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan that can bring stability and security to the region.”

The secretary, the statement said, noted that “Pakistan and the United States shared common interests in establishing a stable, peaceful Afghanistan, defeating ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] in South Asia, and eliminating terrorist groups that threaten both Pakistan and the United States.”

It added: “The secretary discussed our continued bilateral cooperation and partnership , expanding economic ties between the United States and Pakistan , and Pakistan’s critical role in the region.”

It was not all sticks as in the end, Tillerson “expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s sacrifices in the fight against terrorism.”

The secretary, the US embassy said, also “expressed his gratitude to the Government of Pakistan and the Pakistani army for their cooperation in securing the release of the Boyle-Coleman family from captivity.”

Sources said initially separate meetings between Tillerson, Abbasi, Khawaja Asif and General Bajwa were planned but PM Abbasi wanted the meeting to take place on one table so that the civil and the military leadership could listen to what US secretary had to say, together.

The US embassy said Prime Minister Abbasi chaired the “interagency meeting”.

A close aide of the prime minister told The Nation that the ministers and the military leadership were called to discuss the issues on one table to “keep everything transparent”.

“The idea was to listen to Tillerson and give a joint reply through the PM. We [Pakistani civil and military leaders] did have consultations before Tillerson’s visit to finalise our response [to the US],” he said.

The official said Pakistan’s concerns over India’s proposed role on the Afghanistan issue and India’s state-sponsored terrorism in Held Kashmir were shared with Tillerson.

“Tillerson did not give any desired reply on India’s role in Afghanistan but vowed to support [Pak-India] bilateral efforts for resolution of the Kashmir issue,” he added.

Interestingly, PM Abbasi flew to Lahore almost simultaneously with Tillerson who left for New Delhi after the “important talks”.

Officials said Prime Minister Abbasi told Tillerson that Pakistan was committed to the “war on terror” and was not playing any double-game with the US or the world.

He also referred to the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war on terror and added that Pakistan had “produced results” in the fight.

The PM, an official said, shared Pakistan’s fears that US proposal for India’s greater role to resolve the Afghanistan issue would only aggravate the situation.

“Pakistan is already a victim of Indian-sponsored terrorism emanating from the Afghan soil,” he quoted the premier as saying.

An identical statement released separately by the PM’s office and the foreign ministry said Tillerson’s visit was a follow-up to the meeting between Prime Minister Abbasi and the US Vice President, Mike Pence, in New York in September 2017 in which the “two sides agreed to resume full scale engagements between the two governments.”

The prime minister, it said, underlined the importance of high-level engagements between the two countries and expressed satisfaction on the progress made during those interactions in recent months.

Abbasi informed the visiting delegation of the significant strides Pakistan had made in improving the overall security and economic environment of the country resulting in significantly improved business and investment opportunities available to foreign businesses and investors, said the statement.

“The talks covered in detail all aspects of bilateral relations, the regional situation, as well as the evolving international environment,” it said.

Pakistan delegation, the statement said, outlined the government’s policy of a peaceful neighbourhood and steps taken to promote cooperation and stability in Afghanistan and the region.

“The US delegation was informed that progress in promoting peace and stability in the region was linked to the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. The ongoing grave violations of human rights by Indian occupation forces in Indian-occupied Kashmir were highlighted,” the statement added.

The US delegation was apprised of the tremendous sacrifices made by the Pakistan nation including security forces and the law enforcement agencies in the war against terror, it said.

“The fact that Pakistani security forces have successfully carried out the largest counterterrorism operation was detailed along with Pakistan’s sustained commitment and interest in supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan as well as the broader region. The delegation was also informed of the ongoing efforts on securing the Pak-Afghan border out of national resources,” said the statement.

It added: “The two sides agreed to build upon the understandings reached in the dialogue process and to continue the pace and scope of high-level engagements in future.”
http://nation.com.pk/25-Oct-2017/partnership-linked-to-new-strategy-us-tells-pakistan

October 25, 2017   No Comments

Tillerson asks Islamabad to step up fight against terrorists

by Baqir Sajjad Syed in Dawn, October 25th, 2017
ISLAMABAD: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Pakistani leadership on Tuesday to step up their fight against terrorist groups on their soil and facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process.

“The secretary reiterated President Trump’s message that Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within the country,” a US Embassy statement on Mr Tillerson’s visit said.

Mr Tillerson’s message appeared significantly toned down as compared to the usual American rhetoric on alleged terrorist sanctuaries on Pakistani soil, although in essence there was little difference in the messaging.

The secretary had just a day earlier told reporters at Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase that Islamabad needed to have “a clear-eyed view” of terror safe havens on its territory and cautioned that bilateral ties would be conditions-based in terms of whether or not its leaders take the “specific” actions that were being required of them.
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In an attempt to allay Pakistan’s concerns, the secretary on multiple occasions during his few hours in Islamabad stressed Pakistan’s importance for America’s policy in this region and attainment of the goals set under President Trump’s South Asia strategy.

“Pakistan is important regionally to our joint goals of providing peace and security to the region and providing opportunity for greater economic relationship as well,” Mr Tillerson said before the start of the talks.

Mr Tillerson held delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at the PM House. The Pakistani delegation, which was led by the prime minister, included Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Defence Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence Director General Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar.

It was one of the rare occasions when the often squabbling civilian and military leaders met the visiting US leader together to underscore their consensus on foreign policy issues.

Outlining US expectations from Islamabad, the secretary told his interlocutors that Pakistan should “facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan”, and contribute to shared interests of “establishing a stable, peaceful Afghanistan, defeating (the militant) Islamic State in South Asia, and eliminating terrorist groups that threaten both Pakistan and the United States”.

Frayed Pak-US ties came under fresh strains after President Trump, while announcing his South Asia strategy, accused Pakistan of insincerity in fighting terrorism, while taking billions of dollars from the US. But leaders of the two countries later worked together to avert a breakdown in relationship.

The effort for preventing such an eventuality was so well executed that at times it gave an impression of bonhomie. Reco­very of a kidnapped Candanian-American family from Taliban captivity and Washington’s profuse praise for the operation that led to their freedom came to epitomise the improvement in relations.

However, insiders had all along insisted, and something confirmed by Mr Tillerson’s visit, that notwithstanding the improved atmospherics, both sides were firmly holding on to their positions.

Talking to the US Embassy staff at the chancery, the secretary of state said that he was visiting Islamabad to continue the discussions on the recently announced President Trump’s South Asia policy. He told them that he expected “very open, very frank” discussions on the challenges in the bilateral relationship and things Pakistani leadership was expected to undertake to address those issues, besides making them realise that Washington wanted “to work together as partners”.
PM’s assurance

Prime Minister Abbasi, meanwhile, assured Secretary Tillerson that Pakistan remained committed to the war on terror and looked forward to continue working with the US.

Defence Minister Khurram Dastagir, participating in a TV talk show after attending the meeting, said the Pakistani side flagged its concerns about US plans for giving India a greater regional role.

“The two sides agreed to build upon the understanding reached in the dialogue process and to continue the pace and scope of high-level engagements in future,” a PMO statement said.
https://www.dawn.com/news/1366133/tillerson-asks-islamabad-to-step-up-fight-against-terrorists

October 25, 2017   No Comments

Tillerson talks tough to ‘incredibly important’ Pakistan

By Kamran Yousaf in The Express Tribune, Oct 25, 2017
ISLAMABAD: The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday pressed Pakistan to speed up its efforts against terrorism but described Islamabad as ‘incredibly important’ player to deal with some of the pressing challenges facing the region.

On his maiden visit to Islamabad, Secretary Tillerson – while renewing the US demand seeking action against Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network – said many of the solutions to the regional challenges have to be found in Pakistan in a statement that underlines the importance of Islamabad in the Trump administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia.

“Pakistan has an incredibly important role in that South Asia strategy. The country is very important to us. The security, the stability of the country is very important to us,” the secretary of state remarked while interacting with the US Embassy staff before talks with Pakistani authorities.

“And many of the solutions to the regional challenges are – have to be found here as well in dealing with the leadership in Pakistan, and so we’re here to have further discussions about that,” he added.

Tillerson, who flew to New Delhi after four-hour stay in Islamabad, held talks with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Foreign Minister Khawja Asif, army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, DG ISI Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar and other officials also attended the meeting held at the PM office.

During the talks, the US official demanded Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within the country, a telling message he delivered to the country’s civil and military leadership.

The agenda was wide ranging covering bilateral issues, war on terror, Afghanistan and wider regional matters. Unlike the past, Tillerson did not interact with the media in a move that suggests that he did not want to face tough questions.

In a 30-second video, released by the PM office, Tillerson could be heard telling the prime minister that Pakistan is “so important regionally to our joint goals of providing peace and security to the region and providing opportunity for greater economic relationship.”

In return Abbasi said Pakistan is committed in the war against terror.

“We have produced results and we are looking forward to moving ahead with the US and building a tremendous relationship,” the premier said.

“The US can rest assured that we are strategic partners in the war against terror and that today Pakistan is fighting the largest war in the world against terror. We appreciate the understandings that we agreed and we appreciate the engagement,” Abbasi added.

But tough discussions took place behind the cameras where the two sides expressed their views in a candid and frank manner, officials familiar with the closed door huddle told The Express Tribune.

Pakistan, according to those officials, presented its own grievances ranging from undermining its anti-terror efforts to giving India a greater role in Afghanistan. The secretary of state was informed in categorical terms that India could only play the role of a spoiler in Afghanistan.

The statement issued by the US Embassy gave some hint about what exactly transpired in Tillerson’s talks with the Pakistani civil and military authorities.

The statement said the secretary reiterated President Trump’s message that Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within the country.

“To address those concerns, the Secretary outlined the United States’ new South Asia Strategy and the vital role that Pakistan can play in working with the United States and others to facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan that can bring stability and security to the region,” the statement added.

In his policy speech on August 21, Trump accused Pakistan of supporting agents of ‘chaos and violence.’ He also alleged that Pakistan was supporting Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. But Trump warned that Pakistan had to change this approach immediately.

Islamabad always denies the charge and insists that it cannot be made scapegoat for the failures in Afghanistan. It is also not happy with the Trump administration for undermining the country’s enormous sacrifices in the fight against terrorism.

While Tillerson reiterated the demand from Pakistan to do more, he attempted to placate Islamabad by suggesting that “the US share common interests in establishing a stable, peaceful Afghanistan, defeating ISIS in South Asia, and eliminating terrorist groups that threaten both Pakistan and the US.”

In all meetings with Pakistan’s leaders, the secretary expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s sacrifices in the fight against terror. He also expressed gratitude to the government of Pakistan and the Pakistani Army for their cooperation in securing release of the Boyle-Coleman family from captivity.

The separate statement issued by the PM office gave a positive spin to talks between Secretary Tillerson and civil and military leadership as it did not talk about the US demand, seeking specific action against certain militant groups.

It said Tillerson’s visit was a follow-up to the meeting between the prime minister and the US Vice President Mike Pence in New York in September in which the two sides agreed to resume full scale engagements between the two Governments.

The PM underlined the importance of high level engagements between the two countries and expressed satisfaction on the progress made during these interactions in recent months.

The US delegation was informed that progress in promoting peace and stability in the region was linked to the resolution of the Jammu & Kashmir dispute. The ongoing grave violations of human rights by Indian occupation forces in Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir were highlighted.

The delegation was also informed of the ongoing efforts on securing the Pak-Afghan border out of national resources. The two sides agreed to build upon the understandings reached in the dialogue process and to continue the pace and scope of high level engagements in future.https://tribune.com.pk/story/1540159/1-tillerson-arrives-islamabad-high-level-talks/

October 25, 2017   No Comments

Secretary Tillerson Urges Pakistan Crackdown on Militant Havens

By Saeed Shah in The Wall St Journal, Oct 25, 2017
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—The U.S. pressed Pakistan for the elimination of havens for militants within its territory, according to American and Pakistani officials, in a meeting Tuesday between Pakistani leadership and the visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

However, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi insisted to Mr. Tillerson that there are no terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan, according to Pakistani officials, and Mr. Abbasi pledged to cooperate with the U.S. to stabilize Afghanistan.

The secretary of state is the most senior U.S. official to make a trip to Pakistan since President Donald Trump outlined a new Afghanistan policy in August. That policy depends on ending havens for Afghan militants in Pakistan, the U.S. said.

“The Secretary reiterated President Trump’s message that Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within the country,” according to a statement from the U.S. embassy.

“We are committed in the war against terror. We have produced results,” Mr. Abbasi told Mr. Tillerson during a televised photo opportunity ahead of their meeting. “The U.S. can rest assured that we are strategic partners in the war against terror and that today Pakistan is fighting the largest war in the world against terror.”

The meeting was positive, not confrontational, according to Pakistani officials, with the U.S. seeking Islamabad’s assistance in bringing to an end its longest-running war, in neighboring Afghanistan.

The U.S. believes the Taliban has a haven in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan while the allied Haqqani network is present in northwest Pakistan. Both areas are close to the Afghan border.

The meeting followed the recovery by Pakistani forces this month of an American-Canadian family that had been held captive by the Haqqani network for five years. That rescue won praise from Mr. Trump for Pakistan. U.S. officials say that the family was kept in Pakistan for much of that time, while Pakistan says that they were brought across the border from Afghanistan just before the rescue.

In an interview with The Toronto Star on Monday, Caitlan Coleman, the American wife, said that they had been moved between Pakistan and Afghanistan several times, and they were kept in Pakistan for a year before being freed—pointing to a continued haven for Haqqani network fighters in Pakistan.

On Monday, in Kabul, Mr. Tillerson had said: “Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organizations that find safe haven inside of Pakistan.”

Washington wants Pakistan to eliminate militant sanctuaries and help bring the Taliban into peace negotiations. U.S. officials have indicated that the talks can’t happen until the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan breaks what they call a stalemate on the battlefield, showing the Taliban that they can’t win. Islamabad believes the talks should happen now.

Islamabad says that it is already stretched fighting militants that target Pakistan and it can’t start a war on any Afghan insurgents on its soil, but it is prepared to push them across the border into Afghanistan. Islamabad says, however, that with some 40% of Afghan territory in Taliban control, the insurgents don’t need havens in Pakistan. Islamabad also thinks the U.S. is blaming Pakistan for its failures in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has carried out extensive counterterrorism operations over the last three years, including in the North Waziristan tribal area, previously the headquarters of the Haqqani network, which Islamabad says has ended militant infrastructure in the country.

However, the U.S. believes that many Haqqani network fighters relocated to other parts of Pakistan, including the Kurram tribal area. Last week, Kurram was subject to drone strikes against Haqqani operatives, according to local residents. Pakistan denied the strikes took place. The American-Canadian couple were recovered in or around Kurram.

Mr. Tillerson’s multistop trip will next take him to India.https://www.wsj.com/articles/secretary-tillerson-urges-pakistan-crackdown-on-militant-havens-1508869399

October 25, 2017   No Comments

U.S. Warning to Pakistan: Stop Backing Terrorism

By GARDINER HARRIS in The NY Times online, Oct 24, 2017
ISLAMABAD — Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson stopped in Islamabad on his way to New Delhi on Tuesday to deliver what he hoped would be a sobering message to Pakistan: Stop funding or providing shelter to terrorist groups. Now.

It is a message the United States has been giving the Pakistanis in various forms since the Sept. 11 attacks, and it is one the Pakistanis have by turns harkened to, bristled at and shrugged off — sometimes in the same meeting — for years.

In tackling the deeply dysfunctional relationship between the United States and Pakistan, the Trump administration is finding that it is not unlike some difficult marriages: all but impossible to fix, but also impossible to end.

There were few signs on Tuesday that this 16-year-old dynamic had changed.

Mr. Tillerson met with three of Pakistan’s top leaders at the elegant prime minister’s residence in Islamabad: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi; the foreign minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif; and, most important, the Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

At a formal greeting before a portrait of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who is considered the father of Pakistan, Mr. Tillerson began with reassurances. “Pakistan is important, as you know, regionally to the U.S. security relationships and so important regionally to our joint goals of providing peace and security to the region and providing opportunity for a greater economic relationship as well,” he said.

Mr. Abbasi, wearing a traditional white kurta next to Mr. Tillerson’s dark suit, responded cheerfully but pointedly. “The U.S. can rest assured that we are strategic partners in the war against terror and that today Pakistan is fighting the largest war in the world against terror,” he said.

The United States believes that Pakistan has for years supported terrorist groups, like the Haqqani network, that attack American troops in Afghanistan, undermining the 16-year effort to defeat the Taliban. But for just as long, the United States has relied on Pakistani air and land routes to supply both American and Afghan forces.

Without Pakistan, the United States would not be able to keep troops in Afghanistan — but it also might not need to, some American observers suggest.

“What do you do when your allies are part of the problem?” asked Daniel L. Byman, a counterterrorism expert at Georgetown University. “The desire to turn our backs on these people is there, but then you worry that terrorists will have more operational freedom and it will cost you more in the long run.”

In public, the Pakistanis say they have killed more terrorists at greater cost in lives lost than any other nation. In private, they say they must hedge their bets against the inevitable day when American troops leave Afghanistan.

In the days leading up to Mr. Tillerson’s visit, the United States conducted a flurry of airstrikes along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, fulfilling President Trump’s promise in August to intensify attacks against the Taliban and Haqqani network, which has run a virtual factory in Pakistan since 2005 to supply suicide bombers in Afghanistan.

Local news media outlets reported more than a dozen missile strikes that killed scores of Haqqani fighters. The strikes, many of them in Pakistani territory, are deeply irritating to Pakistan, which considers them a threat to its sovereignty.

Along with the attacks, the Trump administration has toughened its rhetoric. In a speech last week that offered effusive praise for India, Mr. Tillerson warned, “We expect Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorist groups based there that threaten its own people and the broader region.”

Senior Pakistani army and intelligence officials expressed confidence in background interviews in recent days that the Trump administration cannot sustain a hostile stance for too long. The Pakistanis are keenly aware that the United States relies on them not only for supplies of material, but also for intelligence.

The Obama administration worked to reduce its reliance on Pakistan in part by reaching a reconciliation with Iran, the only other viable option for supplying troops in Afghanistan. India is building a port in the Iranian city of Chabahar, where supplies could be landed and shipped to Afghanistan.

C. Christine Fair, an associate professor at Georgetown University, argues that Pakistan represents a far greater threat to American interests than Iran does. It was Pakistan that provided nuclear technology to North Korea and Libya, and Pakistan’s proxies have killed more American troops than Iran’s, she said.

But the Trump administration’s hostility toward Iran — Mr. Trump has threatened to tear up the Iran nuclear accord — has closed off such a strategy, so the United States must rely on Pakistan.

“It’s like a woman trying to leave an abusive marriage when she has no money,” Ms. Fair said. “How do you do that?”

Will tougher rhetoric change Pakistani behavior? Experts are skeptical. “Getting tough on Pakistan, which we’ve tried before, never works,” said Ryan C. Crocker, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. “In fact, it has the opposite effect. They just dig in deeper.”https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/world/asia/tillerson-pakistan.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fasia&_r=0

October 25, 2017   No Comments

Trump’s aide arrives today in bid to ‘reset ties’

By Kamran Yousaf in The Express Tribune, Oct 24, 2017
ISLAMABAD: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due in Islamabad today (Tuesday) to meet Pakistan’s civil and military leadership for crucial discussions on resetting the bilateral ties and Afghanistan endgame.

Tillerson, who is on a tour to regional countries, is the first high-ranking American official to travel to Islamabad after President Donald Trump unveiled his strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia in August.

The new policy – which envisages greater emphasis on the use of force and points a finger at Pakistan for “not doing enough” against certain militant groups – has caused strains in ties between Pakistan and the US.

However, the recent rescue by Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies of an American-Canadian couple somewhat eased simmering tensions between the two countries.

Pakistan’s swift action has won praise from Trump and other American officials.

A senior Foreign Office official says there has been greater emphasis on engagement now after initial rhetoric from the Trump administration.

There has been a flurry of engagements between the two countries over the past few weeks.

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif undertook a bilateral visit to Washington. Then the US interagency delegation comprising senior officials from the White House, State Department and Pentagon visited Islamabad.

The engagement process is expected to continue as Defence Secretary James Mattis is to travel to Islamabad after Tillerson’s visit.

According to the Foreign Office official, Tillerson’s visit will set the tone for future engagement between the two countries on bilateral as well as regional issues.

Tillerson, who paid an unannounced visit to Kabul on Monday, said he was going to Pakistan to discuss US requests for specific action against the Afghan Taliban and other extremist groups allegedly based there.

While the US has its list of demands, Pakistan has its own grievances ranging from the Trump administration’s attempts to undermine its sacrifices against terrorism to giving India a greater role in Afghanistan.

Although the demand seeking action against certain groups remains the same, there has been considerable change in the tone of the US administration after Pakistan rescued the American-Canadian couple.

Within days of the rescue, US and Afghan forces launched drone and conventional airstrikes in Paktia and Khost provinces of Afghanistan. Umar Khalid Khurasani, the chief of outlawed Jamaatul Ahrar, was reportedly killed in one of those drone strikes.

The US and Afghan forces’ willingness to target anti-Pakistan elements across the border suggests a new understanding among the three countries to deal with the common threat of terrorism.

Officials familiar with the agenda of talks between the Pakistani authorities and top US diplomat told The Express Tribune that the government would present its view on the new Afghan strategy as well as wider regional issues.

Apart from Afghanistan, tensions between Pakistan and India are likely to come up for discussions during Tillerson’s visit. The secretary of state will depart for New Delhi in the evening after daylong engagements in Islamabad. https://tribune.com.pk/story/1539137/1-tillerson-arrives-islamabad-tuesday-talks-pak-us-relations-afghanistan-peace/

October 24, 2017   No Comments