US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will arrive in Pakistan on Tuesday on his maiden visit to the country to normalise bilateral ties strained after President Donald Trump accused it of providing safe havens to terrorist groups. Tillerson’s crucial visit to Islamabad comes days after he made a major policy speech on America’s growing strategic relations with India and US President Trump’s move to offer a bigger say for India in war-torn Afghanistan.
Tillerson, during a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday, indicated that he will firmly tell Islamabad to stop providing safe havens to terror groups on its soil to improve bilateral ties.
Islamabad needed to “take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organisations that find safe haven inside” the country, Tillerson told reporters travelling with him at the Bagaram Air Force base in Afghanistan.
“We have made some very specific requests of Pakistan in order for them to take action to undermine the support that the Taliban receives and the other terrorist organisations receive in Pakistan,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson is visiting Pakistan on the invitation of Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif.
During his brief visit, he will meet Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Foreign Minister Asif and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Tillerson’s visit to Islamabad marks the first by a senior member of the Trump administration.
The Radio Pakistan reported that Pak-US relations, stability in Afghanistan and regional security issues will be discussed during the meetings.
Foreign Office sources said that the discussion would focus on improving security and economic relations but “cooperation against militants would be prominent during talks.”
Tillerson’s visit is significant as it would clarify Trump’s policy and set course for future Islamabad-Washington relations.
In August, President Trump had unveiled his Afghanistan and South Asia policy in which he had hit out at Pakistan for providing safe havens to “agents of chaos” that kill Americans in Afghanistan and warned Islamabad that it has “much to lose” by harbouring terrorists.
Pakistan regularly denies that it hosts terror groups fighting the US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
Trump’s criticism led to further strain in US-Pakistan relations with a peeved Islamabad saying the US president ignored its efforts in the war against terrorism.
But bilateral relations improved slightly after a meeting between Prime Minister Abbasi and Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month.
The ties lso improved after Pakistani troops rescued an American-Canadian family from militants who held them captive for over five years.
There was another step forward when Quadrilateral Coordination Group of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and US held its meeting last week in Oman after a hiatus of over one year to help start peace talks between Kabul and Taliban.
The US also met a major demand of Pakistan for action against militants operating against it from Afghanistan when a drone killed chief of Jamaatul Ahrar Umar Khalid Khurasani last week.
The top militant was involved in several terrorist attacks in Pakistan including Peshawar school attack in 2014 that killed 150 people, mostly students.
In Pakistan, officials said that they are wary of demands by the US without taking into consideration its concerns about increasing role of India in Afghanistan.