WASHINGTON: CIA Director Mike Pompeo has warned Pakistan that if it does not eliminate the alleged safe havens inside its territory, the United States will do “everything we can” to destroy them.
As Defence Secretary Jim Mattis arrives in Islamabad on Monday to persuade Pakistan to support the new US strategy for Afghanistan, the Trump administration is sending mixed signals to its estranged ally. The new strategy seeks Pakistan’s support to defeat the Taliban in the battlefield as Washington believes that only a defeat will force them to reconcile with the Afghan government.
Talking to journalists aboard his plane on Sunday, Secretary Mattis said he did not plan to “prod” Pakistan into action because he expected Islamabad to adhere to its promises to combat terrorism.
He disagreed with a journalist who suggested that Mr Mattis might end up “butting heads” with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa when he meets them in Islamabad on Monday on his first visit as the Pentagon chief.
The VOA radio quoted Mr Mattis as telling the journalist that this was not his style. “That’s not the way I deal with issues. I believe that we [can] work hard on finding common ground and then we work together.”
But the CIA director sent a harsher message when asked at the Reagan National Defence Forum in Simi, California, on Saturday how would the Trump administration persuade Pakistan to adhere to its new Afghan strategy.
Mr Pompeo said: “You begin by seeking their assistance.”
The CIA director noted that Secretary Mattis was travelling to Pakistan to “make clear the president’s intent” and “will deliver the message that we would love you to do that. And that the safe haven inside of Pakistan has worked to the detriment of our capacity to do what we needed to do in Afghanistan”.
He then explained how the Trump administration would deal with the situation if Pakistan turned down Washington’s request to destroy safe havens. “In the absence of the Pakistanis achieving that, we are going to do everything we can to make sure that that safe haven no longer exists,” he said.
Since 2004, the CIA has conducted drone strikes in Fata and recent media reports have suggested that the Trump administration may expand those strikes to cover other areas inside Pakistan.
Mr Pompeo’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, also shared with the forum his experience of dealing with Pakistan as the Obama administration’s CIA chief.
“Pakistan has always been a problem. It has been a safe haven for terrorists who cross the border and attack in Afghanistan and go back into Pakistan,” he said.
“We have made every effort possible, during the time I was there, to convince Pakistan to stop it. But Pakistan, as Mike knows, has this kind of two-wedge approach to dealing with terrorism,” he added.
“On one hand, yes, they do not like terrorism, or attacks from terrorism in their country. But at the same time, they don’t mind using terrorism as leverage to deal with Afghanistan and to deal with India.”
Mr Panetta claimed that Pakistan has had this policy since his days at the CIA and that’s why “Pakistan has always been a question mark”.
Referring to US efforts to persuade Pakistan to cooperate, he said: “I hope that Mike (Pompeo) and Jim Mattis are successful in making clear to the Pakistanis that got to be able to see a little broader and they have to go after terrorists within their own territory. Unless that happens, we are going to continue to have problems in Afghanistan.”
The moderator turned to Mr Pompeo and asked if Pakistan’s approach had changed. “Not yet,” said the CIA chief.
But Secretary Mattis, who warned in October that the United States was willing to work “one more time” with Pakistan before taking “whatever steps are necessary” to address its alleged support for militants, did not show the bitterness displayed by the two CIA chiefs.
Instead, he said he was focused on trying to find “more common ground... by listening to one another without being combative.”