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If Pakistan fails to act against terrorists, US will get it done in a different way: Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attends a Cabinet meeting. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has bluntly told Pakistan if it cannot deliver on the list of “specific asks” on terrorists and safe havens that he had delivered to its leadership during his recent visit to Islamabad, “We’ll deal with it ourselves”.

“Here’s what we need for Pakistan to do,” Tillerson told reporters in Geneva on what he said to the Pakistani leadership.

“We’re asking you to do this; we’re not demanding anything … You can do it or you can decide not to do it. And if you decide you don’t want to do it, just let us know. We’ll adjust our plans accordingly and we’ll deal with it ourselves.”

It’s not a threat, he insisted.

But it must have sounded as one to Pakistan, which has still not recovered from the humiliating 2011 raid by US Navy SEALs that found and killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, a military town deep inland, and the recent release of an American woman and her family for their captors.

The US was prepared to send in commandoes from the same elite unit if Pakistan had not acted on the intelligence provided to it about their whereabouts.

Tillerson gave Pakistan a list of 75 terrorists and entities that he described as “specific asks, beyond just names of individuals”, during his meetings in Islamabad.

First he met Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and his full leadership team, and then with the Army chief Omar Bajwa nd his close advisers “so we could have a more thorough discussion about some of the specifics”.

A view has gained ground among policy makers in the US that Pakistan’s military was the more effective interlocutor for dealing with terrorists sheltering there, as their controller, benefactor, specially Inter-Services Intelligence, the spy agency that has been accused by American leaders of running a foreign policy of its own using terrorists as its surrogates, such as the Haqqani Network, a Taliban affiliate.

Asked about Pakistan’s response to his message, the US secretary of state said, “I think they share the same concern we have about the presence of terrorism. They are – they have been victims of terrorism.”

But, he added, “My conversation with them was about what we feel is important for Pakistan’s future stability … It’s about our concern for Pakistan’s long-term stability as well.” Tillerson has made that point — about the country safety and stability — to the Pakistani leadership before; when he received foreign minister Khawaja Asif at the state department recently.

Conversations between the two erstwhile allies — the US designated Pakistan a non-NATO ally in 2004 — have been tense and acrimonious in recent years over Islamabad’s perceived reluctance to act against terrorists sheltering on its soil. Alluding to happier times — in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Tillerson said that “what was important to me is that let’s reconnect and remember that it hasn’t always been this way”.

But to get there, the United States has “some very legitimate asks, some very legitimate concerns that we need their help addressing”.

He went on to add what he said was not a threat, but which was anything but: if Pakistan was unwilling to deliver, the United States was prepared to go it along, “deal with it ourselves”.


© 2017 the Hindustan Times (New Delhi)

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