US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Islamabad on October 24. Photo: Reuters
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Islamabad on October 24. Photo: Reuters

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday met with civil and military officials at the prime minister’s residence in Islamabad to discuss regional security and Pakistan’s role in the peace process.

Tillerson underlined Pakistan’s importance “regionally to our joint goals of providing peace and security to the region and providing an opportunity for greater economic relationship,” while Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi highlighted Pakistan’s commitment to his country’s  “war on terror,” which he said was the “largest war in the world against terror.”

While discussions focused mainly on bilateral ties and agreements, US claims regarding militant safe havens in Pakistan were also brought up, sources privy to the meeting told Asia Times. With Tillerson heading to New Delhi following the brief stopover, the Pakistani officials also expressed their concerns about Indian involvement in Afghanistan.

“The Pakistan officials maintained that as long as India is eying a role in Afghanistan, peace along the Af-Pak border is difficult to achieve,” a senior military official told Asia Times, adding that the US delegation appeared adamant about pursuing US President’s Donald Trump’s new South Asia policy, which emphasizes a prominent Indian role in Afghanistan.

The change in the Pakistani Taliban leadership was also underscored in the meeting.

“Rex Tillerson was informed about successes in weakening the Pakistani Taliban and their factions, with both the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) announcing new leaderships recently, despite the groups finding refuge in Afghanistan,” the official added.

JuA chief Omar Khalid Khorasani reportedly succumbed to injuries incurred on October 18 when he and nine other militants were targeted in a US drone strike in Afghanistan. The same day the TTP named Usman Mansoor as its new chief, confirming the death of its previous “Khalifa” Umar Mansoor, who had also been killed by a US drone in Nangarhar on July 13 last year.

However, a foreign office official revealed that the meeting focused more on the Afghan Taliban, with Tillerson sharing his already publicized list of demands for Islamabad.

“Both the civil and military leadership were on the same page and shared Pakistan’s concerns about Indian involvement in Afghanistan, where all Pakistani Taliban leaders hide,” the official said. “But the US delegation’s concerns were the safe havens in Pakistan that our leaders reiterated had been eliminated.”

Tillerson’s meeting comes six days after at least 74 people were killed in Paktia and Ghazni provinces in a series of attacks. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in Paktia, which borders North Waziristan, a semi-autonomous tribal area in Pakistan believed to be the hub of the Afghan Taliban-linked Haqqani Network.

Both the US and Afghanistan accuse Pakistan of shielding the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network

Both the US and Afghanistan accuse Pakistan of shielding the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, while the Pakistani military claims to have regained complete control over North Waziristan, and maintains that the Afghan and Indian intelligence nexus continues to support the TTP.

Earlier this month, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff alleged in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence service has ties with the Taliban and Haqqani Network.

While the assertion was brought up by Tillerson in the meeting, the Pakistani military maintains that any links with these groups are designed to keep tabs on them, and has completely rejected all allegations of supporting the Afghan Taliban.

Former Pakistani foreign secretary Shamshad Khan says that Islamabad shouldn’t compromise on its position.

“Pakistan has a unique geopolitical value, and hence it is difficult to sideline Pakistan. But our problem is that we start blaming ourselves for everything, including turmoil in Afghanistan. We must highlight the issues that Pakistan has faced owing to US policies in Afghanistan,” he told Asia Times.

Former Pakistan ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani said the US has moved away from giving priority to Pakistan’s demands on Afghanistan.

“The American view seems to be that ‘we let you be the lead player in making peace with the Taliban for 20 years since the Taliban’s rise and you did not deliver.’ The only way Pakistan can persuade Americans of its pre-eminence is by framing and delivering a peace deal, not by repeating anti-India rhetoric,” he told Asia Times.

Former chief of Indian intelligence agency Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) Vikram Sood said Pakistan’s claims in the meeting with Tillerson are “completely false.” He told Asia Times“India has exercised restraint throughout and there is no R&AW hand in the Taliban’s activity. It would be best if Pakistan looked within instead of denials and obfuscation.”

Sood added that this applies to Balochistan as well. “If [self-confessed RAW spy Kulbhushan] Yadav’s allegations against RAW are true, why is he not allowed consular access? And then there is Mumbai 2008 staring at us,” he said.

Husain Haqqani added that the US killing Pakistani Taliban leaders in drone strikes inside Afghanistan doesn’t necessarily suggest cooperation between the two states.

“It is not clear if the new US drone campaign is with Pakistan’s understanding or without it. The US has killed Pakistani Taliban at Pakistan’s urging before but that has not always resulted in gratitude or similar action by Pakistan against Afghan Taliban.”

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