U.S. National Security Adviser Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster arrived in Islamabad on Monday on an unannounced visit, a day after he hinted that the U.S. could take a tougher stance on Pakistan.
It was the first visit by a top member of President Donald Trump’s administration to the South Asian country, and came after a stop in neighboring Afghanistan, where he suggested Washington may take a stronger line on Islamabad, for years seen as an unreliable U.S. ally.
A statement issued by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office said McMaster had “assured the Prime Minister that the new administration was committed to strengthening bilateral relations and working with Pakistan, to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the wider South Asian region.”
McMaster’s visits are being closely watched for clues as to the Trump administration’s future course of action in the region. U.S.-led NATO troops have been at war in Afghanistan since 2001, after the ousting of the Taliban regime for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The U.S. has around 8,400 troops in the country with about another 5,000 from NATO allies, as efforts to negotiate a lasting peace settlement between Kabul and the Taliban have repeatedly fallen through.
Afghanistan routinely accuses Pakistan of providing safe haven to the Afghan Taliban.
“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 these groups less selectively than they have in the past and the best way to pursue their interest in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy not through the use of proxies that engage in violence,” McMaster said in an interview with Afghanistan’s Tolo News on Sunday.
The Pakistani statement added that McMaster’s delegation included Lisa Curtis, who U.S. media have previously reported as his pick as senior director for South and Central Asia. Curtis, a well-known conservative expert, recently co-authored a paper calling on the U.S. to stop treating Pakistan as an ally and instead “focus on diplomatically isolating” it if it continues to support groups that have links to international terror.
On Thursday, the U.S. military in Afghanistan dropped its GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, dubbed the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ in combat for the first time on Islamic State group hideouts, killing up to 95 militants. The attack triggered global shock waves, with some condemning the use of Afghanistan as what they called a testing ground for the weapon, and against a militant group that is not considered as big a threat as the resurgent Taliban.