Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said Pakistan still hasn’t done enough against terror groups to merit the resumption of US security assistance, a point he said he would relate to senior leaders in the country when he visits on Wednesday.
“We certainly haven’t seen the progress that we would have hoped to have seen,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane after leaving Washington en route to Islamabad on Tuesday. “Certainly not progress that would be sufficient for us to have advocated for turning back on that financial support.”
Pompeo and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford are scheduled to meet with top Pakistani leaders including the new prime minister, Imran Khan, during an afternoon stop in Islamabad on Wednesday. Pompeo will then continue on to India later in the day for talks with that country’s leaders alongside Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.
The US State Department announced in January that it was suspending security assistance to Pakistan as part of President Donald Trump’s effort to escalate pressure on the government to prevent terrorist groups from finding safe harbour in the country. On Sunday, shortly before Pompeo left on his trip, the US Defence Department said it was suspending $300 million in funding to Pakistan over its failure to take action against terror groups.
Despite saying he wants to work toward a “reset” in US-Pakistan relations, the suspended assistance and continued criticism will cast a chill over Pompeo’s visit to Islamabad, a trip that’s being conducted amid tight security. The leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, Raza Rabbani, has suggested that Khan scrap his meeting with the top American diplomat.
Pakistani officials -- who say their own citizens and soldiers have been the biggest victims of terrorism -- were also angered by a State Department readout of a call Pompeo had with Khan last month. In that conversation, Pompeo “raised the importance of Pakistan taking decisive action against all terrorists operating in Pakistan,” according to the US readout. Officials in Pakistan said the issue wasn’t discussed.
En route from Washington, Pompeo said the US wanted to make clear its expectations of Pakistan to the new government, adding that the decision by the Defense Department wasn’t a surprise.
“Look, this wasn’t news to the Pakistanis,’’ Pompeo said. “The rationale for them not getting the money is very clear, it’s that we haven’t seen the progress that we need to see from them and the very reason for this trip is to try to articulate what it is our expectation is. We need Pakistan to seriously engage to help us get to the reconciliation we need in Afghanistan.”
Pompeo visited Afghanistan in July and said he was confident the US strategy in that country is working. A year ago, Trump authorized the Pentagon to bolster US forces in what has become America’s longest war. The Taliban -- who are widely believed to have close ties to Pakistan’s intelligence service -- took part in a brief truce in June but a breakthrough has remained elusive and the group has made steady gains at the government’s expense.
Pompeo was joined on the plane by Zalmay Khalilzad, his new special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, as Washington looks to clear the way for talks between Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s government and Taliban leaders. Khalilzad is a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations.
From Pakistan, Pompeo will head to India with Mattis for talks Thursday on the two countries’ broader strategic relationship. Pompeo said he expected the two sides will discuss US opposition to India buying a Russian missile system and American demands that India stop oil imports from Iran as part of the Trump administration’s bid to choke off that country’s economy.
Still, though, he said those issues wouldn’t overshadow the broader thrust of the talks.
“They’re part of the conversation, they’re part of the relationship, they will certainly come up but I don’t think they will be the primary focus of what it is we’re trying to accomplish here,’’ Pompeo said. “There’s half a dozen things on the agenda that we’re really intent on making progress on.’’