US defense secretary visits Pakistan to discuss reconciliation role in Afghan strategy

US Defense Secretary James Mattis. (Reuters)
Updated 04 December 2017
0

US defense secretary visits Pakistan to discuss reconciliation role in Afghan strategy

ISLAMABAD: US Secretary of Defense James Mattis is due to arrive in Islamabad on Monday to discuss matters in progress for eradicating terrorism from Pakistani soil, and the country’s role in Afghanistan — an agenda he underlined on Saturday to the media.
“The US remains committed to a pragmatic relationship that expands … cooperation on shared interests while reinforcing President Trump’s call for action against terrorist safe havens,” the secretary said.
This is Mattis’ first trip to Pakistan as defense secretary, though he has visited the country several times before.
Mattis is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and will conclude his last leg in Kuwait of the five-day four-nation tour which began Friday in Egypt.
Mattis is the second highest-ranking US official to visit Pakistan after Trump unveiled the US’ Afghanistan and South Asia policy on August 21. In October, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Pakistan to deliberate over the new strategy, which is devised to defeat the Afghan Taliban and compel them toward reconciliation dialogue with Kabul.
In his previous visit to the region, Mattis opted to meet with the Afghan and Indian leadership to discuss details of the strategy while ignoring Pakistan.
“There has been some sort of tactical adjustment between both countries for short-term goals on Afghanistan, otherwise his visit to the region previously skipped Pakistan,” foreign relations expert Qamar Cheema told Arab News.
Relations between both countries soured when Trump accused Pakistan of harboring “agents of chaos” in August, questioning Pakistan’s resolve to uproot militancy, allegedly thriving in its backyard, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. However, a series of continuing military operations has cleansed much of its volatile tribal areas of terrorists and Pakistan has conveyed its commitment to ensuring peace in the region to the international community.
Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammed Faisal at a press briefing last week said Mattis’ visit is a continuation of interaction on the policy in which differences persist. “This clearly indicates that dialogue between both the countries to bridge the gap in perceptions is ongoing. We are trying to find common grounds and move forward in our bilateral relationship with the US in a positive and cooperative manner.”
Mattis has acknowledged that Pakistan is actively supporting the US strategy but wants assurances that it will not provide sanctuary to any proscribed groups, especially ones it doesn’t find detrimental to its interests.
Addressing the media, he said: “The bottom line is that Pakistan has to act in its own best interest. They know this” and stressed that its non-NATO ally must cooperate with the US and honor sacrifices of its countrymen with a zero-tolerance approach toward terror elements. The US wants Pakistan to promote reconciliation with the Taliban, which it hopes will be a step closer to ending the 16-year ongoing war in Afghanistan.
Mattis said: “It’s a continued dialogue, in what our vision is for the Afghan peace process, which is based on four R’s” plus sustain which stand for regionalize, realign, reinforce, reconcile, an abridged description of Trump’s policy. US firmly believes Pakistan’s role is instrumental for the reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
Analysts observe that both countries have differences on rules of reconciliation engagement. The US wants the Taliban forces to be stopped and squeezed by Pakistan and US-led forces between the Pak-Afghan border region, leaving no option but for them to negotiate. Pakistan wants to separate the good from the bad and have open dialogue with those who wish to talk, and strike those who refuse.
Mattis’ visit to Pakistan signals a further improvement in relations, said Cheema. “Pakistan has given assurances which show relations may stay on track between both states.”
The US is important for Pakistan, even though its northern neighbor China’s massive investment under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor project has given the country a sense of stability and security as its economic crisis widens, he says.
“The US has a global footprint. Its support on the world forum is essential. Pakistan needs that and can’t afford the US being anti-Pakistan.” In terms of defense, no matter what China can offer, “the US military hardware is reliable in comparison.”


Families bury victims as Tanzania ferry disaster toll passes 200

Updated 23 September 2018
0

Families bury victims as Tanzania ferry disaster toll passes 200

  • Divers were also set to continue their grim search in the waters around the boat
  • With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometers, Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya

UKARA, Tanzania: Grieving families were on Sunday preparing to bury victims of Tanzania’s devastating ferry disaster, with more than 200 confirmed dead after the crowded boat capsized in Lake Victoria.
Hopes were fading of finding any more survivors three days after the ferry sank on Thursday, even after rescuers pulled out an engineer who had managed to find refuge in an air pocket in the upturned vessel.
“We are going to start burying bodies not yet identified by relatives,” said John Mongella, governor of Mwanza region, where the MV Nyerere ferry had been coming in to dock on the island of Ukara.
“The (burial) ceremony will be overseen by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, in the presence of clergy members of different denominations,” Mongella said Saturday on TBC 1 public television.
Divers were also set to continue their grim search in the waters around the boat, where late Saturday they were watched by anxious crowds gathered just meters (yards) away on Ukara’s shore.
Mongella said 218 people had been confirmed dead, while 41 escaped the tragedy with their lives — a total figure far above the official capacity of the boat, which was in theory only able to carry 101 passengers.
One survivor was an engineer who shut himself into a “special room” with enough air for him to stay alive until he was found, said local lawmaker Joseph Mkundi.
Transport Minister Isack Kamwelwe said on Saturday that 172 of the victim’s bodies had been identified by relatives.
State television cited witnesses reporting that more than 200 people had boarded the ferry at Bugolora, a town on the larger Ukerewe Island. It was market day, which usually sees the vessel packed with people and goods.
Witnesses told AFP the ferry sank when passengers rushed to one side to disembark as it approached the dock. Others blamed the captain, saying he had made a brusque maneuver.
Dozens of wooden coffins lined the shore on Saturday, waiting to be seen by families as police and volunteers sought to keep hundreds of curious locals at bay.
Aisha William came to collect the body of her husband. “He left on Tuesday around noon, but he never came home. I do not know how I am going to raise my two children,” she said.
Ahmed Caleb, a 27-year-old trader, railed at a tragedy “which could have been prevented. I’ve lost my boss, friends, people I went to school with,” he sighed.
The aging vessel, whose hull and propellers were all that remained visible above water, was also carrying cargo, including sacks of maize, bananas and cement, when it capsized.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Friday ordered the arrest of the ferry’s management and declared four days of national mourning.
In a speech broadcast on TBC 1, Magufuli said “it appears clear that the ferry was overloaded,” adding that the government would cover the funeral expenses of the victims.
With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometers, oval-shaped Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
It is not uncommon for ferries to capsize in the lake, and the number of fatalities is often high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many people in the region cannot swim.