Alice Wells, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia
(Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
The Trump administration is pressing Islamabad to take “credible steps” to dismantle the terror groups operating from its soil, a top US diplomat has said, describing Islamabad’s recent counter-terrorism mesaures like the prosecution and conviction of JuD chief Hafiz Saeed as important but not irreversible.
Speaking at an Atlantic Council-organised virtual discussion, Alice Wells, the outgoing Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, also said the US encourages practical steps that India and Pakistan can take to reduce bilateral tensions.
She said the recent counter-terrorism steps being undertaken by Pakistan are important but not irreversible.
“I don’t turn these steps irreversible, but they’re important steps. Whether it’s the prosecution and conviction of (JuD chief) Hafiz Saeed, the seizure of assets, certainly what we’ve seen on the documentation, better documentation of the economy and we need to keep that focus and work with our international partners,” Wells said at the session held by the Washington DC-based think tank on Wednesday.
Participating in the discussion with Richard Verma, the former US Ambassador to India, Wells also said that the Trump administration continues to encourage practical steps for India and Pakistan to reduce tensions.
“We certainly support practical steps that India and Pakistan can take to reduce tensions such as restoring the 2003 line of control ceasefire, while continuing of course to press Pakistan to take credible steps to dismantle terrorist groups,” she said.
The Indian government led by late prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee entered into a border ceasefire agreement with Pakistan along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir on November 26, 2003.
The India-Pakistan hyphenation is now found only in history books, she said.
Noting that the US considers Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country of 200 million population, as an important partner, she said that the Trump administration is not blind to the cross-cutting issue of terrorism.
“The administration has a very strong stance on terrorism. It’s principled approach towards combating non-state actors and the presence of non-state actors has also been a boon in our broader global engagement and certainly in our engagement with India,” she said.
The US has continuously asked Pakistan to end its support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region, to terrorist safe havens inside the country.
Wells said that what really made it a warning shot across the bow was the international community’s reaction to the Pulwama terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
Pakistan was under intense global pressure to rein in terrorist outfits operating from its soil after the Pulwama attack in February, 2019.
At least 40 CRPF personnel were killed and many injured in one of the deadliest terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir when a JeM suicide bomber rammed a vehicle carrying over 100 kg of explosives into their bus in Pulwama district.
“There was an escalatory period. It was quite concerning to everyone. But India did not come under criticism for its response. And it didn’t come under criticism by principal allies or partners or friends of Pakistan because there was a deep concern over the fact that a non-state actor was being allowed to, or was able to operate in a fashion that was destabilising to global security,” she said.
“So I do think that we are in a different period and we really welcomed these important steps that are being taken by Pakistan. I welcomed the important statements that prime minister Khan has issued…Words are not actions, but those are important words,” Wells said.
Earlier, she told reporters during a conference call that the suspension of security assistance by president Donald Trump in 2018 marked a fundamental change in the country”s approach towards Pakistan.
“The South Asia strategy made it clear that Pakistan needed to take decisive action against these groups, particularly those who support the conflict in Afghanistan and threaten regional stability,” Wells said.
Since then, the United States has seen constructive steps by Pakistan to encourage the Taliban to advance the Afghan peace process, Wells said.
“Pakistan has also taken initial steps towards curtailing other terrorist groups that threatened the region such as arresting and prosecuting (terrorists) and beginning to dismantle terrorist financing structures. As Pakistan’s commitment to peace in the region has grown, we’re seeing initial growth in our relationships, particularly in trade,” she added.