Pakistan has not taken counter- terrorism steps that it promised the US after President Donald Trump announced his new South Asia strategy in August, a top American and NATO commander said today. Reiterating that the relationship between the Haqqani network and the ISI continues, General John Nicholson, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, reconfirmed the assessment of top US defence leadership during a video conference with Pentagon reporters from Kabul.
He was asked about the ISI and its support for the Haqqani network, and whether it had changed specifically over the past few months.
“Well, to bookend that comment, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defence were asked these questions on recently. I think they affirmed that those relationships still exist. So I’d leave it at that and I concur with their assessment,” Nicholson said in response.
According to him, the top Taliban leadership still lives in Pakistan, whereas the tactical-level leadership are in Afghanistan.
“I think their tactical-level leadership is in Afghanistan in the field. But there’s a reason that the two leadership centres of the Taliban are called the Quetta Shura and the Peshawar Shura. Those are cities in Pakistan. So I’d say the senior leadership still resides in Pakistan,” he said.
Nicholson said Pakistan is yet to take action on counter-terrorism which it had promised to do after Trump announced his new South Asia policy in August.
“They (Pakistan) identified certain steps that they were going to take. We’ve not yet seen those steps play out,” he said.
“This is very much a dialogue capital-to-capital right now. We’ll have other senior-level visits coming up. As far as the timeframe for actions on either side, I’ll leave that to our senior leadership to discuss,” he said.
The American leadership, he said, has been very direct and very clear with the Pakistanis.
“I know at the senior level, again, you can read President Trump’s statements. So the expectations are out there. Now, we have not seen those changes implemented yet. We’re hoping to see those changes. We’re hoping to work together with the Pakistanis going forward to eliminate terrorists who are crossing the Durand Line,” Nicholson said.
“The Pakistanis have many concerns about the border from their side. We also share those concerns. And so, there are some common equities we have: obviously counter-terrorism, border control, refugee returns. All these issues are on the table. But in terms of changes thus far this year, again, policy was announced August 21, it’s now a hundred days later. So, no, we haven’t seen those changes yet,” he said.
In his South Asia strategy speech, Trump was harsh on Pakistan.
“For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror. The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict. And that could happen,” he had said in his August speech.
Trump had said the US can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.
He also warned Pakistan that it has much to lose by continuing to harbour criminals and terrorists.
Trump had accused Pakistan of sheltering terror groups that try every day to kill Americans.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars but at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately,” he said in a blunt message.
“No partnership can survive a country’s harbouring of militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order, and to peace,” he said.
Last week, the White House also issued another warning to Pakistan in the aftermath of the release of 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed from house arrest.
“Saeed’s release, after Pakistan’s failure to prosecute or charge him, sends a deeply troubling message about Pakistan’s commitment to combating international terrorism and belies Pakistani claims that it will not provide sanctuary for terrorists on its soil.
“If Pakistan does not take action to lawfully detain Saeed and charge him for his crimes, its inaction will have repercussions for bilateral relations and for Pakistan’s global reputation,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement on November 25.