WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump will dispatch his top diplomatic and military advisers to Pakistan in the coming weeks, turning up the heat on a nuclear-armed ally accused of harbouring terror groups, according to reports.
Weeks after Trump angrily accused Islamabad of providing safe haven to “agents of chaos,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to depart for Pakistan late this month.
He will be followed by Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.
The one-two punch is designed to drill home Trump’s message that alleged Pakistani state support for jihadist groups has to end, according to officials briefed on the visits.
Washington has long been frustrated by Pakistan’s alleged willingness to offer cross-border safe havens to Taliban factions and armed jihadist groups fighting US troops and their Afghan allies.
The relationship reached the breaking point in 2011 when former president Barack Obama sent commandos into Pakistan in 2011 to kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was living in a military garrison town.
With little change since then, Trump came to office indicating that Washington’s frustration had reached the point where something had to give.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said in an August address.
But in the six weeks since Trump signalled that tougher tone, there have been precious few signs that the calculus in South Asia has changed.
Visiting Washington, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif appeared unwavering. He lashed out at “hollow allegations” about Pakistan harbouring terrorists as “not acceptable.” “That is not the way you talk to 70-year-old friends,” Asif said bitterly. “Instead of accusations and threats we should cooperate with each other for the peace in the region,” he added in confirming Tillerson’s visit.
Earlier this month, a US drone killed three suspected militants in an attack on a compound in Pakistan’s tribal region. Pakistani officials also complain of receiving mixed messages from the Trump administration, which is still struggling to find its feet under a mercurial commander-in-chief.
A September meeting in New York between US Vice President Mike Pence and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was said to be cordial, despite Trump’s fire and brimstone rhetoric.
“It was a very good meeting with the vice president,” said Asif.
After that, Pakistan officials said, they were surprised at a tougher tone outlined in public by Mattis and in private by Trump’s National Security Advisor HR McMaster.