WASHINGTON: On a day the fledgling Trump administration has announced that it is going to "abandon the era of strategic patience" practiced by previous US governments, a top American official arrived in Islamabad to tell Pakistan that it should stop using terrorism to pursue its goals.
"As all of us have hoped for many, many years, we have hoped that Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after (militant) groups less selectively than they have in the past and the best way to pursue their interest in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy and not through the use of proxies that engage in violence," US National Security Advisor Gen HR Mcmaster, who has a reputation of blunt speaking, told his Afghan hosts in Kabul, shortly before his arrival in Islamabad on Monday. New Delhi is expected to be his next stop.
The US Embassy in Islamabad confirmed that it was the message McMaster conveyed to Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his entourage during talks, saying in a statement that the US NSA expressed appreciation for Pakistan's democratic and economic development but also "stressed the need to confront terrorism in all its forms."
The Pakistani statement about the engagement, however, said Sharif "reaffirmed his commitment to a peaceful neighbourhood and apprised the US NSA of the steps taken by Pakistan to reach out to both India and Afghanistan." There was no mention of the spat over Pakistan's incarceration of the former Indian Navy personnel Kulbhusan Jadhav on spying charges that has set back ties between the two countries.
The statement from Sharif's office said he "reiterated his firm conviction on sustained dialogue and meaningful engagement as the only way forward to resolve all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, including the Kashmir dispute" and that "he welcomed President Trump's willingness to help India and Pakistan resolve their differences particularly on Kashmir and noted that this could go a long way in bringing sustainable peace, security and prosperity in the region."
Trump has spoken occasionally and off-handed about helping bring about peace between India and Pakistan while professing that no relationship is more important to him than the one with New Delhi. A senior Trump cabinet official, US ambassador to UN Nikki Haley, went so far as to say may play a pro-active role in de-escalating tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi.
But the State Department rolled back the remarks, clarifying that while the US wished Pakistan and India to live in peace, any talks between the two should be in the bilateral framework and in the time, pace, and scope of their choosing.
McMaster's message is no different from what previous US administrations have conveyed to Pakistan - with little effect. However, the tough talking came on the heels of vice-president Mike Pence’s 's indication in Seoul, in the context of developments in North Korea and the region, that the Trump administration will be more action-oriented and less restrained.
Pakistan has long played Washington for a sucker, milking it for billions in foreign aid while nurturing terrorist groups that have killed Afghans, Americans, and Indians in the region.
McMaster is expected to arrive in New Delhi on Tuesday to prepare ground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi 's visit to the US, later this summer.
(First Published in times of India)