US Defence Secretary James Mattis on Monday met the top Pakistani leadership here and reviewed current state of the bilateral ties and the war on terror, amidst Washington’s concern that Islamabad was not doing enough to dismantle terror safe havens on its soil.
Mattis, who arrived on Monday in Pakistan with the issue of terrorists safe havens high on the agenda after the release of 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed from house arrest last month, met Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
According to the state-run Radio Pakistan, they discussed different aspects of Pak-US relations especially the regional security situation.
Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjua, ISI DG Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar and senior officials were present on the occasion, it added.
Mattis is also expected to meet Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Relations between the US and Pakistan have plummeted after President Donald Trump announced his new Afghan and South Asia policy in August and directly blamed Islamabad for supporting the Afghan Taliban.
Mattis is on a five-day tour to Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Pakistan.
Talking to journalists aboard his plane on Sunday, Mattis said he did not plan to “prod” Pakistan into action because he expected Islamabad to adhere to its promises to combat terrorism, Dawn reported.
He disagreed with a journalist who suggested that Mattis might end up “butting heads” with Prime Minister Abbasi and Army Chief Bajwa when he meets them in Islamabad on his first visit as the Pentagon chief, the paper said.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo has said Pakistan’s policy of using terrorists as a leverage against India and Afghanistan has not changed and warned Islamabad that the US will do “everything it can” to ensure that terror safe havens no longer exists in the country.
Pompeo told Regan National Defence Forum in California over the weekend that this is the message that Secretary Mattis was tasked to deliver to the Pakistani leadership.
The spy chief said said that nothing has changed with regard to Pakistan when it comes to using terrorist as a leverage to deal with Afghanistan and India.
“Not yet,” he said.
Visiting Islamabad about a week after the White House asked Pakistan to immediately arrest and charge 26/11 Mumbai attack mastermind Saeed, in the absence of which it warned of repercussions, Mattis said he needs to talk to leaders in the country and gain their understanding.
JuD chief Saeed, who has an American bounty of USD 10 million on his head, walked free on November 24 after a court ordered an end to his 10-month detention.
“The first thing I’m going to do is do some listening, like I always do. My goal is to find common ground. I need to go, to sit down and listen to them, start there, start by listening,” Mattis said earlier on his way to Pakistan.
Mattis is the first top American official to visit Pakistan after the completion of the first 100 days of the US’ new South Asia strategy unveiled by Trump on August 21.
He said there is common ground between Afghanistan and Pakistan because there are terrorist groups that try to move back and forth, that do move back and forth in order to live in one country and attack the other.
“So we know there’s common ground; it’s how much more common ground can we find by listening to one another without being combative with one another, listening to others’ perspective,” Mattis said.
“But at the same time, as the General (Bajwa) has said, he wants no havens for terrorists anywhere, so we will work together and we’ll find that common ground, if we have the will to. And then we’ll work on how we address the problems where we can work together,” he said.
Mattis said there is “always an urgency to something” when 39 nations plus Afghanistan have their troops in the midst of a long war, where causalities are being taken.
He said that it was essential in South Asia that all countries work together to restore the level of stability that allows for the economy to build.
“I mean, can you imagine a border between Pakistan and India where economic trade is not ongoing to the benefit of people on both sides of that border. We can not only imagine it, it’s a reality right now,” Mattis said.
“So we have got to work together on this, and there’s a sense of urgency about that,” he said.
“There’s people who are living below the poverty line in both those countries. So as you look at this problem, if you’ll expand the problem you can understand the sense of urgency to move beyond violence and get back to the normal order of things,” he said.
“General Bajwa is a mature officer with a deep background in not just military matters, but South Asia security issues, and we have got to find a way to move beyond this constant fighting that’s characterised the area,” he said.