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Rex Tillerson does not enjoy dealing with Pakistan

14 December, 2017

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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that Pakistan is still an important and valued partner for the United States, although he does not enjoy dealing with it.

Mr Tillerson and Defence Secretary James Mattis are leading US efforts to reengage Pakistan and both have visited Islamabad for talks aimed at reversing the downward trend in bilateral ties.

And the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson Dana White told a news briefing in Washington on Monday that the secretary had “very fruitful conversations” with Pakistani leaders about “where we can find common ground” when he visited Islamabad on Dec 4.

“Dealing with Pakistan — I don’t enjoy that. But I enjoy dealing with (Assistant Secretary) Alice Wells and Ambassador (David) Hale on it,” said Secretary Tillerson when asked at a US State Department Town Hall on Tuesday if he enjoyed his job.

“Pakistan is still an important and valued partner of the United States. Over the last decade, the relationship had drifted, and we’ve got to bring this relationship back to one of common interest. Today that’s just not the case,” he added.

The deterioration in US-Pakistan relations began in 2011 when the United States located Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and eliminated him without informing Islamabad. Relations have continued to deteriorate since then.

“So we’re engaged in very, very frank discussions with Pakistan over the concerns we have about their own stability and their own future and the threat they’re under by allowing terrorist organisations to operate in their territory,” said the top US diplomat while underlining US concerns about Pakistan.

The US-Pakistan talks, he said, also focused on how the two countries could work together to bring stability and peace to the South Asian region, “a lot of work left to do.”

Mr Tillerson explained that new US strategy for Afghanistan emerged from “a heavy, heavy emphasis on counterterrorism” in South Asia because “that’s really the big threat that we’re dealing with there”.

The new strategy, he said, had committed the US to a conditions-based fight in Afghanistan, which had no timeline. “We’re there until this thing is brought to a conclusion. It’s not a blank check. It’s not a forever. But we’re going to stay on the ground and support the Afghan government,” he said.

Mr Tillerson also emphasised the need for the Afghan government to deliver on the needed reforms and create the conditions to have an inclusive government that allows for participation of all the groups, including the Taliban.

“When the Taliban are ready to come to that negotiating table, there will be a place for them to participate in a future Afghan government,” he added.

Under the new strategy, the United States wants to defeat the Taliban in the battlefield to force them to join the peace process and seeks Pakistan’s cooperation for this purpose.

While Pakistan backs the US suggestion for encouraging reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government, it also says that a military solution will not work. Instead, it suggests working with those Taliban who want to talk and fighting those who do not.

Secretary Tillerson, however, said that a pivotal point in the new US strategy was to deny any safe haven to terrorist organisations, be­­cause a number of terrorist organisations were still operating in the Afghan-Pakistan region.

“Our policy is, deny them the ability to have a safe haven where they can organise, they can recruit fighters, they can raise money, they can plan and carry out attacks against our allies, our own homeland, as we know they did in the past,” he said. “The entire (US) policy in South Asia is to achieve that.”

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