Shut safe havens of militants, US tells Pakistan

WASHINGTON • The United States has warned an angry Pakistan that it could lose its status as a privileged military ally if it continues giving safe haven to Afghan militant groups.

One day after US President Donald Trump unveiled a new strategy to force the Taleban to negotiate a political settlement with the Kabul government, his top diplomat upped the heat on Islamabad.

Mr Trump had warned that Pakistan's support for the Afghan Taleban and the Haqqani extremist network would have consequences, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spelled these out.

"We have some leverage. In terms of aid, their status as a non-Nato alliance partner - all of that can be put on the table," he said on Tuesday.

As one of 16 non-Nato major allies, Pakistan benefits from billions of dollars in aid and has access to some advanced US military technology banned from other countries.

This year, the US has already withheld US$350 million (S$477 million) in military funding over concerns Pakistan is not doing enough to fight terror.

Mr Tillerson said Washington wants to work with Pakistan as it expands its own support for Kabul in the battle against the Taleban, but warned it to close militant safe havens.

Some of Pakistan's critics in Washington have urged Mr Trump to go further, by authorising US strikes against militants inside Pakistan or declaring Pakistan a "state sponsor of terror".

Mr Tillerson said: "The President has been clear that we are going to attack terrorists wherever they live.

"We have put people on notice that if you're providing safe haven to terrorists, be warned - we are going to engage those providing safe haven and ask them to change what they are doing."

All this drew a hurt response from Pakistan, which has been a US ally since the Cold War.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry hit back on Tuesday .

It said in a statement: "No country in the world has suffered more than Pakistan from the scourge of terrorism, often perpetrated from outside our borders.

"It is, therefore, disappointing that the US policy statement ignores the enormous sacrifices rendered by the Pakistani nation in this effort."

Pakistan added that it should not be used as a scapegoat for the failure of the US military to win the war in Afghanistan.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said in an interview to Geo TV late on Tuesday that Pakistan's efforts to fight terrorism were being taken for granted and dismissed the notion the US could "win war against terror by threatening us or cornering us".

"Our contributions, sacrifices and our role as a coalition country have been disregarded and disrespected," Mr Asif said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2017, with the headline 'Shut safe havens of militants, US tells Pakistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe