WASHINGTON: The US Department of Defence has acknowledged its relationship with Pakistan’s military as critical to the success of interests in the region, and proposed that Pakistan must make fundamental changes in the way it deals with terrorist safe havens in its territory.
In its first report to the Congress on Afghanistan after President Trump announced his administration’s new policy towards the region, the department argued that it will use a range of tools to expand cooperation with Pakistan in areas where mutual interests converge. But, it also insisted that the areas where the interests diverge, it will take unilateral steps.
“To move forward, we must see fundamental changes in the way Pakistan deals with terrorist safe havens in its territory,” the report said adding, “To induce the change, we will work across the US government, using a range of tools to expand our cooperation with Pakistan in areas where our interests converge and to take unilateral steps in areas of divergence.”
The report titled ‘Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan’ reveals a plan for the department to remain engaged in the region. “The Afghanistan-Pakistan border region remains a sanctuary for various groups, including al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ISIS-K, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Sanctuary on the Pakistani side and presence on the Afghan side remain security challenges for both countries and pose a threat to regional security and stability,” it said.
A more than 100-page long report accepts that military operations launched by Pakistani Army disrupted some terrorist sanctuaries, yet certain extremist groups – such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network – retain freedom of movement in Pakistan. “The United States continues to convey to all levels of Pakistani leadership the importance of taking action against all terrorist and extremist groups,” the report said.
It also suggested that increased collaboration between Afghanistan and Pakistan is critical to maintaining pressure on terrorist groups and for meeting the enduring security requirement on both sides of the shared border. “The trust deficit resulting from Pakistan’s support of and inaction against Afghan-oriented extremists, and Pakistan’s concerns about terrorist attacks launched from Afghanistan, hampers the bilateral military collaboration required to achieve enduring security,” the department said.
The report also pointed out that efforts to keep the border secure have been inconsistent, interrupted by high-profile terrorist attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and public statements by each government disparaging on another. Each country publicly claims that the other provides sanctuary to certain militant groups and lacks the will to combat them.
It emphasised that the US supports an Afghan-led reconciliation process and supports any mechanism that leads extremist groups to lay down their arms. Crippling the will of the Taliban to continue fighting, thereby compelling them to negotiate with the Afghan government is the key to new South Asia strategy, it said. Pointing out the key points in the new strategy for stability in South Asia, the report said, “The pillars of the strategy include: building a broad, regional consensus for a stable Afghanistan; emphasising regional integration and cooperation; stressing cooperation in an Afghan-led peace process; and holding countries accountable for the use of proxies or other asymmetric means to undermine stability and regional confidence.”