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Pakistan using Taliban as ‘hedge’ against India, says US commander

Due to its growing frustration against Pakistan’s inability to fight Islamic terrorism, the American government had previously suspended military aid to Pakistan.

An American top commander while responding to questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Tuesday said that Islamabad’s policy seems to be unchanged and it continues to use the Taliban as a ‘hedge’ against India.

“Pakistan is an essential element in long-term stability in Afghanistan”, Marine Corps Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie Jr told the lawmakers, during his confirmation hearing for a commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM).

Reiterating that Pakistan could play a key role in aiding talks between the Taliban and government of Afghanistan, the commander furthered, “I would welcome that development. At this time, however, Pakistan does not appear to be using the full extent of its influence to encourage the Taliban to come to the table.”

“We continue to see the Taliban being utilised as a hedge against India rather than as part of a stable, reconciled Afghanistan,” McKenzie told the lawmakers during his confirmation hearing.

The Senate Armed Services Committee had put forward a set of written questions in front of the commander. His response was in retaliation to these questions and it came a day after it became public that Trump has written a letter to Imran Khan, seeking his help in the Afghan peace process.

In the letter sent to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, US President, Donald Trump requested Pakistan to lend full support to the US-led Afghan peace process and Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s upcoming trip to the region,” a spokesperson of the National Security Council, White House, told PTI.

President Trump in his letter asked Pakistan’s cooperation to bring the Taliban into talks.

“In the letter, the President recognises that Pakistan has the ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory,” the spokesperson said. “The letter also makes it clear that Pakistan’s assistance with the Afghan peace process is fundamental to building an enduring US-Pakistan partnership,” he added.

McKenzie told the lawmakers that despite Pakistan’s positive rhetorics in support of the South Indian strategy, they continue to extend support to the terrorist organisations which operate along the Pakistan borders in partnership with Afghanistan.

McKenzie furthered that he did not see much of a change in Pakistan’s behaviour towards Afghanistan or its stand against terrorist groups.

Donald Trump, in an interview given last month, had also expressed his anger against Pakistan by saying, Pakistan doesn’t “do a damn thing” for the United States despite billions of dollars in U.S. aid, alleging that its government had helped Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden hide near its garrison city of Abbottabad.

Days after this interview it was reported that due to its growing frustration against Pakistan’s inability to fight Islamic terrorism, the American government had suspended $1.66 billion in security assistance aid to Pakistan.

The United States has been pushing Pakistan for a long time now, to crack down on safe havens for terrorists operating inside the country. In September, the Trump administration, agitated by Pakistan’s unresponsiveness, had also cancelled USD 300 million in military aid to Islamabad for not doing enough against terror groups like the Haqqani Network and the Taliban active on its soil.

India has also cited Pakistan’s continued support to terrorists to spread violence on Indian soil as the reason for cancelling all bilateral dialogues with the country. India has maintained that there cannot be any peace talks as long as Pakistan allows terrorists to use its territory as a breeding ground.

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