Pakistan Hasn't Stemmed Terrorism in Afghanistan, U.S. Says

Updated on
  • General says Pakistan has fought attacks on its government
  • ‘Big problems remain,’ U.S. commander Nicholson says

Will America Ever Leave Afghanistan?

Pakistan has failed to stop terrorists crossing its borders into Afghanistan, even as it has made progress against those who attack inside the country, the top U.S. general in the region said.

“The Pakistanis have been engaged in a very tough fight against extremism inside their own country,” Army General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told reporters Tuesday. “They did displace many of those terrorists who were fighting their own government. But at the same time, we’ve seen the ones who weren’t displaced were the Afghan Taliban” and the affiliated Haqqani network, he said.

John Nicholson

Photographer: Shah Marai/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump announced a new regional strategy in August intended to force the Taliban to the negotiating table by boosting U.S. forces in Afghanistan, increasing the training of Afghan forces and pilots, strengthening the Afghan government and prodding Pakistan to do more or face a cutoff in U.S. financial aid. “Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror,” said Trump, whose strategy also aims to strengthen ties with India, Pakistan’s traditional adversary.

Read more: A QuickTake Q&A on Why Pushing Pakistan Isn’t Simple

Pakistan’s civilian government and military reacted angrily to Trump’s statements, saying the U.S. has failed to recognize its efforts to combat terrorism, pointing to thousands of its troops that have died in operations over more than a decade.

Nicholson, speaking by video conference from Afghanistan, said “big problems remain,” citing periodic cross-bordering shelling by the Pakistani military in pursuit of terrorist groups. “This has, unfortunately, displaced hundreds of Afghan civilians from villages in close proximity to the border,” so “the relations are strained right now,” he said.

He said Pakistani leaders have come to Kabul to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and “they identified certain steps that they were going to take.” The general added: “We’ve not yet seen those steps play out.”

Every recent U.S. defense secretary since Robert Gates has visited Pakistan seeking improved relationships and greater cooperation stemming cross-border sanctuaries after the Obama administration announced an “AF-Pak” strategy in 2009 linking success in Afghanistan with Pakistan.

Eight years later, the efforts continued with the August announcement. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has yet to visit Pakistan.

Expectations for Pakistan

Nicholson’s remarks were the most extensive from a U.S. military official since Trump’s announcement about expectations for Pakistan under the administration’s new strategy. Mattis, in his few comments about Pakistan since the strategy was announced, has been more cryptic.

“We will firmly address Pakistan’s role” because “NATO’s demands need to be heard and embraced in Islamabad,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in October.

Without elaborating, Mattis added that “there will be a very specific number of things that we deal with Pakistan on, and those will be balanced with the appropriate levels of firmness as we set a new relationship.”

The Pentagon chief said Pakistan “has a convoluted history with terrorism” but added that there are “probably few nations, perhaps none” that “have lost as many troops fighting terrorists as they have.”

Border Posts

Fleshing out the U.S. strategy further, Nicholson said “One of the principle issues that we want to work together on is border control” between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The two nations have established standard operating procedures “for how to do this,” he said.

The U.S. and NATO had assisted the two nations in the establishment of border crossing points, but after a 2015 reduction in forces in Afghanistan, “many of those policies, outposts” that “were in place have fallen off.”

With Beijing financing more than $55 billion of Pakistani infrastructure projects as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, some analysts have suggested that the U.S. now has less financial leverage over Pakistan.

U.S. frustration with Pakistan has led to the suspension or withholding of some aid. Since 2015, the U.S. has denied Pakistan $650 million in Coalition Support Fund reimbursements that could be released only if the U.S. military certified the country is making acceptable progress against the Haqqani network, which is affiliated with the Taliban.

The Pentagon also continues to review whether $400 million that Congress approved for fiscal year 2017, pending a certification, can be released. The fiscal 2018 defense policy bill earmarks an additional $350 million, which can’t be released until there is a Pentagon certification as well.

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