US urges Pakistan to target ‘all terrorist groups’

mark-toner-reu-LWASHINGTON: A day after deducting $300 million from military aid to Pakistan over action against the Afghan Haqqani network, the United States urged Islamabad on Friday to target all militant groups.

At a news briefing at the State Department, deputy spokesperson Mark Toner also encouraged closer cooperation between Pakistan and India in the fight against terrorists.

“We’ve been very clear with the highest levels of the government of Pakistan that they must target all militant groups, and that includes those that target Pakistan’s neighbours, and they must also close all safe havens,” he said.

“We encourage that kind of regional dialogue regarding counterterrorism efforts. We advocate for closer cooperation, certainly, between India and Pakistan to deal with terrorist threats in both their countries,” said the US official while responding to a question about a home ministers meeting in Islamabad of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc).

India sent its Home Minister Rajnath Singh to attend the meeting, a gesture that raised hopes for a reconciliation between the states. But instead of improving ties, the meeting increased tensions after Pakistani and Indian ministers clashed over the ongoing unrest in India-held Kashmir.

“Terrorism is obviously a reality in both countries, and in order to effectively confront it, they need to work together. And that’s something we’ve long encouraged,” Mr Toner said.

The US official noted that the Saarc forum allowed Pakistan and India to hold “a candid” discussion on the areas of disagreement as well as those of common concern.

“I’m not going to get into the specifics of the back-and-forth except to say that we obviously believe that Pakistan needs to do all it can to confront all terrorists operating on its soil,” said Mr Toner when asked to comment on the war of words between the Indian and Pakistani home ministers. “We’ve seen it make progress; we want to see more progress on its part,” he said.

Asked if the US was satisfied with Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism, Mr Toner said Islamabad had taken some positive steps but it needed to do more.

“We believe that Pakistan has taken and is taking steps to counter terrorist violence, and certainly focusing on those groups that threaten Pakistanis or Pakistan’s stability,” he said.

The official noted that the Pakistani military had shut down some terrorist safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and had restored government control to parts of the country that were used as terrorist safe havens for years.

“These are important steps that have contributed to security interests in the region. And they’ve come at a cost of Pakistani lives lost,” he said. “So I guess, to put it briefly or summarise it, they’ve made progress.”

But the US official said that Pakistan was doing so “selectively, we need to see them go after all groups, even those groups that might not threaten Pakistan itself but threaten its neighbours”.

Replying to a question about the Pentagon’s decision to withhold $300m of defence aid to Pakistan over its alleged reluctance to act against the Haqqani network, Mr Toner said that unlike the Pentagon, the State Department had continued its assistance and some of that included security assistance.

Asked if the State Department agreed with the Pentagon’s assessment that Pakistan was not doing enough to eliminate the Haqqani network, he said: “We’ve urged the government of Pakistan to address this and to pursue closer counterterrorism cooperation with Afghanistan against all groups that pose a long-term security threat to the region, not just to Pakistan.”

Mr Toner welcomed the formation of a counterterrorism alliance of China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan to devise a joint strategy.

Since China had initiated the meeting, there were speculations in the media that the US might not welcome this alliance.

“We don’t view it as in any way counterproductive and we don’t view it as a zero-sum game that China pursues closer ties — certainly in the security field and certainly in the counterterrorism field — with Central Asian countries,” the spokesman said.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, there’s a lot of problems to be addressed, so we certainly don’t view any effort to more closely coordinate among those countries — all of whom are affected by terrorism in the region — as a negative at all. In fact, we view it as a positive,” he said. DN

THE PASHTUN TIMES

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