Talks between the United States and Pakistan on Islamabad’s role in fomenting terrorism and instability in Afghanistan and the sub-continent have yielded little, with principals on both sides distracted by domestic developments.
Embroiled in a messy controversy at home over his purported rift with the US President and whether he called Trump a moron, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson engaged his Pakistani counterpart Khwaja Asif with little enthusiasm. Pakistan’s foreign minister, on his part, brought nothing to the table, at least publicly, other than the familiar laundry list of complaints and disclaimers, despite warnings from the Trump administration that it was running out of time before Washington initiating punitive action.
The little that Tillerson said – ahead of his talks with Asif – was not entirely flattering to Pakistan. It revealed the Trump administration’s disquiet over the state of affairs in Pakistan, including its continued subversive role in the region, its confrontation with India, and reports of a growing rift between the military and the civilian leadership inside the country.
As a result, Tillerson framed US-Pakistan ties in the regional context rather than giving it any bilateral lift. Asked if the US has a reliable partner in Pakistan now, this was his response: ”Yes, I believe we do. I think the Pakistan relationship and the US relationship is extraordinarily important regionally. And as we rolled out the South Asia strategy, we spoke about it in a regional context. It is not just about Afghanistan.
”This is about the importance of Pakistan and Pakistan’s long-term stability as well. We have concerns about the future of Pakistan’s government, too, in terms of them — we want their government to be stable and we want it to be peaceful. And many of the same issues they’re struggling with inside of Pakistan are our issues,” he added cryptically.
Further remarks suggested Pakistan could regain favors in Washington only if it stopped its regional subversion and delivered peace.
”We think there is an opportunity to strengthen that relationship. We’re going to be working very hard at all levels, from the State Department to the Defense Department to our intelligence communities, as well as economic, commerce opportunities as well. So it really is a regional approach and Pakistan is critical, I think, to the long-term stability of the region,” Tillerson said, adding, ”Our approach to South Asia, specifically Afghanistan, is building relations with India and Pakistan to stamp out terrorism and support the Afghan government in providing security for their home people.”
Despite Pakistan’s bluff about acting on terror groups being called out by American principals in open congressional hearings, Asif, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said, ”informed the Secretary of State with regard to the strong public reaction in Pakistan to the pronouncement of US Administration’s South Asia Policy – based on inadequate recognition of Pakistan’s sterling contribution in the fight against terrorism.”
Absent any separate statement from the State Department on the meeting, the Pakistan Embassy in Washington claimed that Tillerson ”remarked that Pakistan’s interests and concerns will be accommodated since its role was critical to President Trump’s South Asia Strategy.”
The statement also said Asif ”urged the United States to take note of the gross human rights violations being perpetrated by Indian security forces in Occupied Kashmir,” while maintaining the familiar Pakistani position that ”peace in South Asia would remain out of reach until the resolution of all longstanding disputes, including the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir.”