US secretary of state Rex Tillerson in Pakistan on maiden visit
Islamabad: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday arrived in Pakistan on a whirlwind visit to normalise bilateral ties strained after President Donald Trump accused the country of providing safe havens to terrorist groups.
Tillerson’s crucial visit to Islamabad comes days after he made a major policy speech on America’s growing strategic relations with India and Trump’s move to offer a bigger say to India in war-torn Afghanistan.
During a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday, the top US diplomat indicated that he will firmly tell Pakistan to stop providing safe havens to terror groups on its soil to improve bilateral ties.
“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 the other terrorist organisations receive in Pakistan,” he told reporters travelling with him at the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.
Islamabad needed to “take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organisations that find safe haven inside the country,” he said.
Tillerson is visiting Pakistan on the invitation of foreign minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif. During his four-hour stay here, he will also meet Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Asif, and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Tillerson’s visit to Islamabad marks the first by a senior member of the Trump administration.
Radio Pakistan reported that Pakistan-US relations, stability in Afghanistan and regional security issues will be discussed during the meetings.
Foreign office sources said the discussions would focus on improving security and economic relations but “cooperation against militants would be prominent during talks”.
Tillerson’s visit is significant as it would clarify Trump’s policy and set a course for future Islamabad- Washington relations.
In August, Trump had unveiled his Afghanistan and South Asia policy in which he had hit out at Pakistan for providing safe havens to “agents of chaos” that kill Americans in Afghanistan and warned Islamabad that it has “much to lose” by harbouring terrorists.
Pakistan regularly denies that it hosts terror groups fighting the US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Trump’s criticism led to further strain in US-Pakistan relations with a peeved Islamabad saying the president ignored its efforts in the war against terrorism. But bilateral relations improved slightly after a meeting between Prime Minister Abbasi and vice president Mike Pence on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month.
Ties also improved after Pakistani troops rescued an American-Canadian family from militants who had held them captive for over five years. There was another step forward when the Quadrilateral Coordination Group of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and the US held its meeting last week in Oman after a hiatus of over a year to help start peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban.
The US also met a major demand of Pakistan for action against militants operating against it from Afghanistan when a drone strike killed the chief of Jamaatul Ahrar Umar Khalid Khurasani last week.
The top militant was involved in several terrorist attacks in Pakistan including the Peshawar school attack in 2014 that killed 150 people, mostly schoolchildren. In Pakistan, officials said they are wary of demands by the US without taking into consideration Pakistani concerns about the increasing role of India in Afghanistan.
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