US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has bluntly told Pakistan's top leadership that it must increase efforts to eradicate terrorists operating from its soil. Tillerson, who was in Islamabad for a few hours on his inaugural trip to Pakistan as Secretary of State, met with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and discussed the bilateral cooperation and partnership, expanding economic ties between the US and Pakistan, and Pakistan’s critical role in the region.
Abbasi chaired an inter-agency meeting attended by Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Minister of Defence Khurram Dastigir Khan, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, ISI chief Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar and other officials.
The US embassy here said that the Secretary reiterated President Trump's message that "Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within the country."
To address those concerns, the Secretary outlined the United States’ new South Asia Strategy and the vital role that Pakistan can play in working with the US and others to facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan that can bring stability and security to the region, the embassy statement said.
"The Secretary noted that Pakistan and the United States share common interests in establishing a stable, peaceful Afghanistan, defeating ISIS in South Asia, and eliminating terrorist groups that threaten both Pakistan and the United States."
Tillerson arrived in Pakistan on a whirlwind visit to reset bilateral ties strained after President Donald Trump accused Islamabad of providing safe havens to terrorist groups. Tillerson's visit to Islamabad marks the first by a senior member of the Trump administration and comes days after he made a major policy speech on America's growing strategic relations with India and Trump's move to offer a bigger say to India in war-torn Afghanistan.
On his way to Pakistan, Tillerson during a surprise visit to Afghnaistan where indicated that he would firmly tell Islamabad to stop providing safe havens to terror groups on its soil to improve bilateral ties.
Talking to journalists at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan on Monday, Tillerson said that in Pakistan he would discuss US demands for securing Afghanistan and its conditions for continuing their relationship.
During the meeting on Tuesday, Abbasi assured Tillerson that his country is committed to the war against terrorism.
"The US can rest assured that we are strategic partners in the war against terror and that today, Pakistan is fighting the largest war in the world against terror," Abbasi told Tillerson just before their closed-door talks began. Abbasi said Pakistan is "committed in the war against terror."
He said Pakistan has produced "results" in its war against terrorism and it was looking forward to moving ahead with the US and building a tremendous relationship.
Abbasi informed the visiting delegation of the significant strides Pakistan had made in improving the overall security and economic environment of the country, the Prime Minister's office said in a statement.
"Talks covered in detail all aspects of bilateral relations, the regional situation, as well as the evolving international environment. Pakistan delegation outlined the government's policy of a peaceful neighbourhood and steps taken to promote cooperation and stability in Afghanistan and the region," it said.
The Pakistan leadership however, again raked the Kashmir issue saying that progress in promoting peace and stability in the region was linked to the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, it said.
Defence Minister Khan told Geo TV that all aspects of relations were discussed and there was agreement to increase cooperation to defeat militancy.
"They asked Pakistan to take action against groups which are involved in militancy and also urged Pakistan to help create peace in Afghanistan," he said.
He said the Pakistani side insisted that its efforts for peace were derailed twice -- once when the news of the death of Mullah Omar was divulged and second when Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor was killed.
He said Pakistan the tone of the US delegation was reconciliatory and it insisted that Pakistan’s role was important for regional peace as it lies between India and Afghanistan.
Khan said that Pakistan also highlighted the issue of Indian presence in Afghanistan and raised concerns about New Delhi's role in security affairs in the war-torn country.
"We said that we do not have any issue with Indian development work in Afghanistan but we have issued with its security role," he said.
He said the US official tried to "tell us that India is not a threat to Pakistan but our perception was different".
He said Tillerson expressed gratitude to Pakistan in securing the release of the Boyle-Coleman family from Taliban captivity.
Earlier, Tillerson quietly landed at a military airport in Rawalpindi in the afternoon and was driven to US embassy where he was briefed by senior US officials about relations with Pakistan.
He later met Abbasi at the Prime Minister House and held detailed talks on various aspects of relations.
It was Tillerson’s first visit to the region after Trump unveiled his policy for Afghanistan and South Asia. Trump's remarks in August unruffled the ties already under strain due to various issues.
Pakistan regularly denies that it hosts terror groups fighting the US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
Trump's criticism led to further strain in US-Pakistan relations with a peeved Islamabad saying the president ignored its efforts in the war against terrorism.
Tillerson flew to India after his meetings in Islamabad, where he is expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushama Swaraj. He arrived in Delhi late night.
(With PTI inputs)