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US threats haven’t led Pakistan to restrict Taliban, report says

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.

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By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 27, 2018

KABUL — U.S. threats to cut aid to Pakistan for its support of the Taliban have not led to any significant changes in Islamabad’s relations with insurgents who seek to overthrow the American-backed Afghan government, the State Department said in a report.

The Pakistani government in the past year has not restricted the Taliban or its offshoot group, the Haqqani network, from operating within its territory, despite vows to support peace talks between the Afghan government and insurgents, said the annual Country Reports on Terrorism, which was released Sept. 19.

“Pakistan did not take sufficient action” against terrorist groups that raise funds and train there, the report said, noting Islamabad’s release last November of Hafiz Saeed, mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 dead, according to The Associated Press.

The U.S. criticism finds support among Afghan leaders who have charged in recent weeks that Pakistan continues to aid militants in the country.

Multiple attacks in Kabul this year were planned and launched from safe havens in Pakistan and some al-Qaida members remain in Afghanistan, the report said.

The U.S. and Afghan governments have long accused Pakistani intelligence officials of supporting the Taliban and other militants, who find sanctuary in the rugged terrain of Pakistan’s western tribal areas. Pakistan has long rejected those charges.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly accused Pakistan of “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” while also describing the country in a speech last year as a “valued partner.”

The U.S. announced this year it would suspend about $1.1 billion in security aid to Pakistan. A Pentagon spokesman earlier this month cited “a lack of decisive actions in support of the South Asia strategy” in the decision to cancel $300 million in reimbursements to Pakistan for its counterterrorism operations.

Pakistan may be able to make up for recent cuts in U.S. aid by reaching out to China, which lent $2 billion to the country in July and has offered both economic and military aid.

The U.S. had already cut military aid to Pakistan by 60 percent from 2010 to 2017, without causing any significant changes in Pakistan’s behavior, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Since 2002, the U.S. has given $33 billion in support to Pakistan, which is battling terrorism on its own soil. Along with Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan is one of five countries last year where most of the world’s terrorist attacks took place, Ambassador Nathan A. Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, said in a teleconference discussing the report last week.

Islamabad has launched operations against al-Qaida in the tribal areas since 2014, the terrorism report stated. Terrorist violence has fallen in that time, but attacks on vulnerable civilian and government targets continue.

Afghan officials claimed to have found dozens of Pakistanis among the dead after a Taliban assault on the city of Ghazni in August, according to Voice of America.

Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah echoed the U.S. position on Pakistan during a speech Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“Real change has not taken place as far as their policies towards the Taliban,” he said.

Pakistan might prefer a weakened rather than unified Afghan state. The ideal for Pakistan would be “managed chaos” in which neither the Taliban nor the Kabul government dominates, said Kamran Bokhari, senior fellow with the Center for Global Policy in Washington.

And yet Pakistan, despite how it undermines the Afghan government, could play a key role in any potential peace talks, said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington.

Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, could serve as a mediator with the Taliban, as he may be seen by the insurgents as a trusted figure, Kugelman said. Khan has called for a “more balanced” relationship with the U.S. without “one-sided deals,” according to reports prior to a Sept. 5 visit to Islamabad by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“Pakistan’s demands are simple: It wants the Taliban to have a politically significant role in any eventual endgame, and it wants an Afghan government that is friendly to Pakistan and unfriendly to India,” Kugelman said.

lawrence.jp@stripes.com
Twitter: @jplawrence3

 

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