Trump sends lieutenants to Pakistan with tough message
Trump sends lieutenants to Pakistan with tough message
Weeks after Trump angrily accused Islamabad of providing safe haven to “agents of chaos,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to depart for Pakistan late this month.
He will be followed by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, according to US and Pakistani sources.
The one-two punch is designed to drill home Trump’s message that Pakistani state support for jihadist groups has to end, according to officials briefed on the visits.
Washington has long been frustrated by Pakistan’s willingness to offer cross-border safe havens to Taliban factions and armed Islamist groups fighting US troops and their Afghan allies.
The relationship reached the breaking point in 2011, when president Barack Obama sent commandos into Pakistan in 2011 to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, who was living in a military garrison town.
With little change since then, Trump came to office indicating that Washington’s frustration had reached the point where something had to give.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said an August address.
But in the six weeks since Trump signaled that tougher tone, there have been precious few signs that the calculus in South Asia has changed.
Mattis told Congress this week that he will try “one more time” to “see if we can make this work.”
“To this point, we have not seen any impact on military-to military-relations,” said one Pentagon official, suggesting any change would not happen after Mattis’ visit.
Visiting Washington, Pakistan’s foreign minister Khawaja Asif appeared unwavering.
He lashed out at “hollow allegations” about Pakistan harboring terrorists as “not acceptable.”
“That is not the way you talk to 70-year-old friends,” Asif said bitterly.
“Instead of accusations and threats we should cooperate with each other for the peace in the region,” he said while confirming Tillerson’s visit.
While professing anger in public, Pakistani officials in private complain about receiving no concrete requests to target the Haqqani network or other groups.
US officials have been reticent to share some intelligence for fear of tipping off targets with links inside Pakistan’s government.
Earlier this month a US drone killed three suspected militants in an attack on a compound in Pakistan’s tribal region.
Pakistani officials also complain of receiving mixed messages from the Trump administration, which is still struggling to find its feed under a mercurial commander-in-chief.
A September meeting in New York between Vice President Mike Pence and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was said to be cordial, despite Trump’s fire and brimstone rhetoric.
“It was a very good meeting with the vice president,” said Asif.
After that, Pakistan officials said, they were surprised at a tougher tone outlined in public by Mattis and in private by Trump’s National Security Adviser HR McMaster.
Some optimists point to a visit by Pakistan’s army chief to Kabul as evidence that Islamabad is moderating, after years of support propping up the Taliban.
But many, having watched this debate for decades, are less convinced.
The Taliban and groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, they argue, remain a potent tool in the hands of Pakistani intelligence.
“Of course they don’t get the message” said Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at Georgetown University.
“Pakistan is not going to do anything different than its already doing unless the administration can figure out a way to do what no administration has previously done.”
“That is basically to call Pakistan’s bluff and impose some meaningful punishment.”
Trump has warned that military aid — which halved between 2012 and 2016 — could be cut further, a move that Fair dismisses as insufficient.
“It’s basically saying that we’re going to cut back the money the US taxpayer is giving to Pakistan” she said.
“That’s not punishment. Pakistan is not entitled to our money. What they are really talking about is giving Pakistan less of an allowance.”
Policy makers have considered revoking Pakistan’s non-NATO ally status, with deep symbolic but limited practical impact.
Punitive economic sanctions — that could force Pakistan closer to Turkey, China or Russia — seem a long way off.
And Pakistan remains vital for the United States as a route to resupply its forces in Afghanistan and for supplying the Afghan army.
Mission sets up emergency center for Bangladesh workers caught in Libyan conflict
- The wave of violence has also affected those Bangladeshis who have been living in Libya for many years
- A round-the-clock control room service has been set up by the Bangladesh mission in Tripoli to protect Bangladeshi migrant workers since the latest clashes began
DHAKA: Construction worker Nurul Alam, 27, who became stranded in Tripoli, unable to move due to heavy gunfire surrounding his hideout, is one of 25 Bangladeshi migrant workers who have been rescued thanks to a 24-hour control center set up in the Libyan capital.
He was rescued after he contacted the Bangladesh Embassy for help.
His mother Jainab Akhter, 59, said her son had been living in Tripoli for four years, working for a construction company when he became stranded at Khalid Farjan in the city, trying to eke out his stockpile of food, but in such a vulnerable position that he did not dare to leave his hiding place.
“Due to heavy gunfighting, Alam could not come out on the streets to find a safer place. Although Alam talked to us every day from that stranded situation, it was like a nightmare for me. I prayed every moment to Almighty Allah to save my son’s life,” said Akhter.
Alam and three other Bangladeshi migrant workers were caught in sporadic battles between rival groups in Tripoli this month. After Alam contacted the Bangladesh Embassy for help they were rescued and taken to a safer location nearby.
A round-the-clock control room service has been set up by the Bangladesh mission in Tripoli to protect Bangladeshi migrant workers since the latest clashes began.
“So far, we have rescued around 25 Bangladeshi workers from different areas of Tripoli,” says Ashraful Islam, the first secretary of Bangladesh mission in Libya.
Islam told Arab News that when they receive an emergency call from a Bangladeshi worker, the mission immediately contacts the local Red Cross. The Red Cross initiates a cease-fire for few minutes by negotiating with the battling groups, then evacuates the stranded individuals.
“We will continue to run this emergency control room service until the situation returns to normal,” Islam added.
Around 8,000 Bangladeshi workers currently live in Tripoli, mostly unskilled migrant workers, Islam said.
“So far we have not received any information of Bangladeshi workers’ casualties resulting from recent clashes and our citizens are still in a comparatively safe position,” he said.
The wave of violence has also affected those Bangladeshis who have been living in Libya for many years. One such is Abdul Mannan Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi who has lived in Libya since 2009.
“One of the rival groups have taken my personal car to fight in the battle. Ten days have passed and they have still not returned my car,” he said.
The expat Bangladeshi businessman added that a state of anarchy now existed in the country. “I don’t feel secure in any part of this country, but I cannot leave as I have already invested a significant amount of money in business. We have been running for the past few years due to security concerns,” added Chowdhury.
Around 30,000 Bangladeshi expats currently live in Libya. The country stopped issuing visas to Bangladeshi workers in May 2015 following reports of illegal human trafficking. In recent years, hundreds of Bangladeshi migrant workers traveled to Italy from Libya through the risky boat journey.
Before the Libyan war, around 60,000 Bangladeshi workers worked for Libyan companies.