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All options on the table to deal with Pakistan: White House

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WASHINGTON: The US is keeping “all options” on the table to deal with Pakistan if it does not take decisive action against the Taliban and the Haqqani network and dismantle their safe havens, the White House warned today.
The warning came after the US suspended about $2 billion in security aid to Pakistan+ for failing to clamp down on terror groups.

The freezing of all security assistance to Pakistan comes after President Donald Trump in a New Year’s Day tweet accused the country of giving nothing to the US but “lies and deceit” and providing “safe haven” to terrorists in return for $33 billion aid over the last 15 years.

“The US does have a range of tools that we’re looking at beyond just the security assistance issue to deal with Pakistan and to try to convince it to crack down on the Taliban and Haqqani network,” a senior Trump administration official told reporters.

 

“Certainly no one should doubt the US resolve to address this threat and all options I would say will be on the table,” said the official on condition of anonymity.

While some policy makers have been asking the White House to revoke the non-NATO ally status of Pakistan and put pressure on the country through multilateral institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations, Pentagon generals have indicated unilateral actions.

However, the official refrained from divulging any of the options that the administration is considering against Pakistan.

“I’m not able to comment on specific steps at this time. But nobody should doubt our resolve in trying to address these threats. We’re looking at all options. We hope that we can cooperate with Pakistan. But we do have options that we’re considering,” the official said.

The US wants action against the existing safe havens of the Taliban and the Haqqani network and demolish its ability to carry out strikes across the border in Afghanistan, the Official said and expressed hope that Pakistan would take actions that the US was seeking.

“….that will allow the relationship to return to a more positive trajectory,” the official said.

In August, while unveiling his new South Asia strategy, Trump had accused Pakistan of giving “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror,” and said the time had come “for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order, and to peace”.

Trump’s new policy, the official said, is driven by the his desire to have a successful strategy in Afghanistan.

“We firmly believes that for the future of the region, Pakistan needs to crack down on these terrorist elements. Unless they take a comprehensive approach to the terrorism problem it is going to threaten US interests and everybody’s interests including Pakistan’s,” the official said.

He said the announcement of the suspension of the security assistance to Pakistan clearly reflected the US’ frustration over Pakistan’s failure to crack down on all terrorists who find shelter on its territory.

“There has been ample time for Pakistan to show it is taking our request seriously. Unfortunately, we have not seen the kind of meaningful action that we were seeking,” the White House official rued.

Responding to a question, the official said US has “a number of tools in its toolkit” and can “take unilateral” steps.
But at this time, the US prefers to cooperate with Pakistan and is hopeful about it, the official said.

“And we want to indicate Pakistan our seriousness about the issue of dealing with safe havens,” the official said.
Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said the US would restore the suspended security assistance to Pakistan if it takes action against terrorist groups.

“We would restore the aid if we see decisive movements against the terrorists, who are as much of a threat against Pakistan as they are against us,” Mattis told reporters.


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51 dead as rainstorm lashes South Africa

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Durban: South African authorities said that at least 51 people were killed, including two Zambian minors aged six and nine, after a rainstorm lashed the provinces of Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal here.

Scores have been wounded and more than 1,000 have been displaced, according to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“We want to commend rescue services at all levels of government for their rapid response. Resources have been mobilized and our teams on the ground have saved lives. More than 1000 people have been displaced and the government is providing shelter and support to those in need,” he tweeted.

 

“We thank the communities and individuals who risked their own lives to save loved ones, neighbours or strangers. We also thank the NGOs who are helping those in need by providing shelter, food and ablution facilities. I’ll be going to EC to assess the situation there as well,” he added.

The city of Durban was amongst the most affected areas, which faced flash floods and rainstorm.

The two Zambian children lost their lives after the roof of the house they were sleeping in collapsed, reports Xinhua. Their father sustained injuries and is currently receiving treatment, according to the Zambian embassy in South Africa.

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Sri Lanka troops join hunt for bomb attack suspects

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Colombo: Sri Lanka deployed thousands of additional troops countrywide overnight to help police hunt for suspects in the Easter Sunday suicide blasts that killed nearly 360 people, a spokesman said on Thursday.

Brigadier Sumith Atapattu said the army increased its deployment by 1,300 to 6,300, with the navy and airforce also deploying 2,000 more personnel.

“We are armed with powers to search, seize, arrest and detain under emergency regulations,” Atapattu told AFP.

 

“We are involved in static guard duties, patrolling and helping with cordon-and-search operations.”

The government also announced a ban on all drone flights and said licences issued to all commercial operators were suspended with immediate effect.

Police said they arrested another 16 suspects overnight with alleged ties to the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) extremist group accused of the blasts at three churches and three luxury hotels.

Police said about 75 people were now being interrogated in connection with the deadliest attack against civilians in the country’s history.

Sri Lankan authorities are also investigating a security failure to act on prior information about the impending Easter bombings by the NTJ.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the minister of defence and law and order, on Tuesday vowed a major security shake up with pledges to remove the heads of the police and armed forces “within 24 hours”, but there were no changes by Thursday morning.

Recriminations have flown since Sunday’s attacks and the country remained tense with many shops and offices closed and motorists staying off the roads.

Sirisena is due to meet with leaders of all political parties as well as religious leaders in two separate meetings on Thursday to discuss the situation.

Sunday’s bomb attacks were the first in the country since the Tamil insurgency ended almost 10 years ago in May 2009.

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Aafia Siddiqui does not want to return to Pakistan: FO

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Islamabad: Dr Aafia Siddiqui “does not want to come back to Pakistan” and reports of her possible repatriation are “mere chatter”, according to Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal.

Dr Faisal, in an interview with Independent Urdu, said that “she (Dr Aafia) will not come back. She does not want to come back herself, as per the information I have.”
The FO spokesperson said that the only way the possibility of Dr Aafia’s return could arise is if Prime Minister Imran Khan and US President Donald Trump met in the future.

In that case, “the exchange of Aafia Siddiqui for Shakeel Afridi could come under discussion,” he added.

 

Dr Aafia’s sister Dr Fouzia contested the FO spokesperson statement, telling Independent Urdu that “if anyone says that Aafia herself does not want to come to Pakistan, it is completely untrue.” She also confirmed that the consulate office in Houston had met Aafia last month.

Dr Fouzia further said that “at one point it had seemed as if Aafia was going to come to Pakistan any moment.” She said that she had been reassured by the government that negotiations with the US were ongoing and that “there will be a good news between January and March, but now silence has set in again.”

“Aafia told me on the phone that she is ready to sign any document, and that she only wants to get out of jail somehow,” Dr Fouzia was quoted as saying.

It is pertinent to mention here that last year, Dr Aafia’s sister, Dr Fouzia, had requested Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to take up the matter with the US.

The foreign minister had said that the issue of Dr Aafia’s repatriation was “being considered”, following which Consul General in Houston Aisha Farooqui had met Dr Aafia and urged the US to “respect her human and legal rights”.

When asked about Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman who was acquitted by the Supreme Court over blasphemy allegations last year, Dr Faisal said that “she is still in Pakistan but could leave soon”.

“It is inaccurate to say that she has already left,” he said. “She is at a safe location in Pakistan but when there is a court order in her favour, she should leave. In my opinion, she will leave soon.”

The FO spokesperson was also asked whether “the foreign policy is influenced by politics or other departments”.

Dr Faisal, in his response, maintained that the foreign policy is formed at the office of foreign affairs. “But the foreign policy is a combination of all policies, including financial, commercial and security issues,” he said. “This happens world over. A country’s security is linked with its foreign policy.”

In response to a question regarding the future of Pakistan- India relations, Dr Faisal said: “Pakistan has kept a positive attitude with India even in difficult times. Whatever new government is formed in India, Pakistan would like to move forward with peace talks.

“We wrote to the Indian prime minister in September 2018, and invited them for peace talks but have not received a response yet. Hopefully the newly elected government will reply to the letter.”

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