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Unless Pakistan Curbs “high-profile terrorist attack” towards India, ties will Worsen: US

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New Delhi, May 12, 2017: The US intelligence chief has slammed Pakistan for its failure to curb support to anti-India militants and warned Islamabad that ties between the two countries would deteriorate if there is another “high-profile terrorist attack in India”.
“They might deteriorate further in 2017, especially in the event of another high-profile terrorist attack in India that New Delhi attributes to originating in or receiving assistance from Pakistan,” Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats said during a Congressional hearing on Thursday.

Coats also sought progress into the 2016 Pathankot attack probe as he presented the intelligence community’s 2017 assessment of threats to US national security.

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“Islamabad’s failure to curb support to anti-India militants and New Delhi’s growing intolerance of this policy, coupled with a perceived lack of progress in Pakistan’s investigations into the January 2016 Pathankot cross-border attack, set the stage for a deterioration of bilateral relations in 2016,” he said.

Last year, Jaish-e-Mohamed militants attacked the Indian airbase in Pathankot on January 2 and killed seven security personnel.

Coats said easing of heightened Indo-Pakistani tension, including negotiations to renew official dialogue, will hinge in 2017 on a sharp and sustained reduction of cross-border attacks by terrorist groups based in Pakistan and progress in Pathankot air base attack investigation.

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Testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence along with key intelligence officials, Coats said that New Delhi-Islamabad relations remain tense following two major terrorist attacks in 2016 by militants crossing into India from Pakistan.

“Increasing numbers of firefights along the Line of Control (LoC), including the use of artillery and mortars, might exacerbate the risk of unintended escalation between these nuclear-armed neighbours,” he added.

On Pakistan’s pursuit of tactical nuclear weapons, Coats said it “potentially lowers the threshold for their use”.

Islamabad has developed short range tactical nuclear missiles to counter India’s Cold Start doctrine.

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According to the statement, the smaller and more mobile nuclear weapons were more prone to falling in the hands of non-state actors during any crisis situation as they would be outside the relative security of a storage site.

Coats said that Pakistan-based terrorist groups present a sustained threat to US interests in the region and continue to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan.

“The threat to the US and the West from Pakistani-based terrorist groups will be persistent but diffuse. Plotting against the US homeland will be conducted on a more opportunistic basis or driven by individual members within these groups,” he said.

Noting that Pakistan will probably be able to manage its internal security, Coats said anti-Pakistan groups will probably focus more on soft targets.

“The groups we judge will pose the greatest threat to Pakistan’s internal security include Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, Jamaat ul-Ahrar, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, ISIS-K, Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, and Lashkar-e Jhangvi al-Alami,” he said.

Coats said that the emerging China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will probably offer militants and terrorists additional targets.

Talking about Afghanistan, Coats in his statement said: “The overall situation in Afghanistan will very likely continue to deteriorate, even if international support is sustained.”

“Endemic state weaknesses, the government’s political fragility, deficiencies of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), Taliban persistence and regional interference will remain key impediments to improvement,” he said.

Coats expected Taliban to make gains in 2017 and worsening of the ANSF “due to a combination of Taliban operations, ANSF combat casualties, desertions, poor logistics support, and weak leadership.” (IANS)

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U.S. Welcomes Pakistan’s Actions Towards Peace in Afghanistan

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan

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Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Pakistan"s Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen during talks in Beijing, China, VOA

The United States said Saturday it welcomes actions Pakistan is taking to promote a negotiated solution to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

The acknowledgement came a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced his country has arranged another round of Washington’s peace talks with the Afghan Taliban scheduled for Monday.

“The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans,” a U.S. embassy spokesperson in Kabul told VOA.

US negotiator

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has met, and will continue to meet, with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, the spokesperson added.

Neither Khan nor the U.S. spokesperson have disclosed the possible venue for the upcoming meeting with Taliban officials.

Some Afghan sources say Monday’s meeting will take place in Islamabad, but no official confirmation is available.

USA, afghanistan
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

Khalilzad, who is visiting regional countries to gather support for Afghan peace talks, is to lead the U.S. delegation in talks with insurgent representatives. This will not be the first time Khalilzad has met with the Taliban.

Since taking office in September, the special U.S. envoy has held two publicly known rounds of preliminary discussions with insurgent negotiators in Qatar, where the Taliban runs its so-called political office. The talks have been for the sake of talks, according to insurgent and other sources aware of the meetings.

Trump’s letter to Khan

U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month wrote a formal letter to Khan asking for his help to bring the Taliban to the table for negotiations. A day later, Khalilzad visited Islamabad where he met with Khan and his military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, to follow-up on Trump’s request, Pakistani officials say.

Speaking in northwestern city of Peshawar on Friday, Khan said the U.S. has changed its tune by requesting help instead of saying Islamabad is not doing enough, as U.S. officials have previously insisted.

“By the grace of Allah, the dialogue is now happening inshallah [God willing] on the 17th [Khan did not mention the month] and Pakistan has facilitated the talks between America and the Taliban,” Khan said. He did not share further details.

taliban, afghanistan
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, right, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

Khan recounted Friday that critics used to mock him as “Taliban Khan” for saying the Afghan war could not be ended without political negotiations but now all key stakeholders are jointly working to pursue a political settlement to end the violence in Afghanistan.

“If peace were achieved, God willing, Peshawar will change and become a hub of commerce and tourism, as things around the 2,500 years old living city are likely to change,” Khan said Friday.

Ambassador Khalilzad is 13 days into an 18-day visit to the region. He has traveled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium and plans to visit the U.A.E. and Qatar.

Withdrawal an issue

Pakistani officials privy to the U.S. interaction with the Taliban have told VOA that until now no progress has been achieved because the insurgents adamantly demand “a date or timeframe” for all foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban decides to participate in an intra-Afghan peace process.

Also Read: What to Make of Taliban’s Continued Rare Silence on Ghani’s Peace Offer? 

U.S. officials have long maintained Taliban leaders are sheltering in Pakistan with covert support from the country’s intelligence agency. Washington has been urging Islamabad to use its influence to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan and continue to pose serious battlefield challenges for U.S.-backed Afghan security forces. (VOA)