U.S defence chief in Pakistan for 'common ground’ to fight terrorism

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Army (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Army (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

U.S. Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, arrived in Islamabad on Monday to ask Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership to do more to rein in militants accused of using the country as a base to carry out attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan.

More than 100 days since President Donald Trump announced his South Asia strategy, however, U.S. officials and analysts say there has been only limited success and it is not clear how progress will be made.

U.S. officials have long been frustrated by what they see as Pakistan’s reluctance to act against groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network that they believe exploit safe haven on Pakistani soil to launch attacks in Afghanistan.

“We have heard from Pakistani leaders that they do not support terrorism … we expect them to act in their own best interest, and in support of peace and regional stability,” Mattis said.

Mattis, who is visiting Pakistan for the first time as defence secretary, said the goal for his trip would be to find “common ground’’and work together.

In August, Trump outlined a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, chastising Pakistan over its alleged support for Afghan militants.

But beyond that, the Trump administration has done little to articulate its strategy, experts say.

Senior U.S. officials say they have not seen a change in Pakistan’s support for militants, in spite of visits by senior U.S. officials, including one by Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, recently.

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“We have been very direct and very clear with the Pakistanis … we have not seen those changes implemented yet,” Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, said this week.

Pakistan says it has done a great deal to help the U.S. in tracking down militants and Pakistani officials have pushed back on the U.S. claims.

U.S. officials expressed hope that relations between the two countries could improve after a kidnapped U.S.-Canadian couple and their three children were freed in Pakistan in October, after the couple was abducted in Afghanistan.

While Mattis traveled to the region earlier this year, he did not make a stop over in Pakistan, although he did visit its arch rival, India, a relationship that has grown under the Trump administration.

Mattis’ brief visit to Islamabad comes a week after a hardline Pakistani Islamist group called off nationwide protests after the government met its demand that a minister accused of blasphemy resign.

Separately, a Pakistani Islamist accused of masterminding a bloody 2008 assault in the Indian city of Mumbai was freed from house arrest.

The White House said the release could have repercussions for relations between Washington and Islamabad.