President Donald Trump's aggressive "new strategy" to convince Pakistan to stop harboring terrorists has not worked so far, CIA Director Mike Pompeo suggested over the weekend.
Pompeo was seated next to former CIA Director Leon Panetta at the Reagan National Defense Forum Saturday when Panetta went on a lengthy diatribe against the Southwest Asian nation's purported duplicitious terrorism "policy" and its failure to listen to U.S. demands to shape up.
"Pakistan has always been a problem," said Panetta, who was at the spy agency's helm when U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011. "On the one hand, yes, they don't like terrorism or the attacks from terrorists in their country. But at the same time, they don't mind using terrorists as leverage to deal with Afghanistan and to deal with India. That's the policy that they've been involved with."
"So Pakistan has always been a question mark," Panetta said.
Fox News anchor Bret Baier, who was moderating the discussion, then asked Pompeo if anything had changed "significantly" in recent months "on that front."
"Not yet," Pompeo said flatly, declining to elaborate and drawing belated laughter from the audience.
Pompeo's admission comes more than three months after Trump announced the U.S. was taking a stronger stance towards Pakistan, designed to dissuade the nation from harboring terrorists once and for all, as part of a broader strategy for Afghanistan:
We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists. In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices.
But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they're housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country's harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. servicemembers and officials. It's time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace.
Despite Trump's suggestion otherwise, past U.S. officials have not stayed silent on the issue and have called out the Pakistani government for its purported close links to terror groups. Panetta himself said in an interview in 2012 that he suspected someone in authority in Pakistan was aware that bin Laden had been hiding there for years. He said the U.S. did not warn the Pakistani government about the mission to kill the al Qaeda leader because U.S. officials feared the Pakistanis would warn him. In September 2011, then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told lawmakers that an infamous Pakistan-based terror network was a "veritable arm" of a Pakistani intelligence service.
In the past, Pakistani officials have taken offense at the suggestion that the government does not take a strong stance against terrorism, much less that it's in league with terror groups. The officials point out that few nations have suffered more from terrorist attacks than Pakistan.
"So doubting our commitment as a nation and a country which itself is the biggest victim of terrorism in any way that we are not sincere or we have certain things up our sleeves is rather unfortunate," Rizwan Sheikh, a top Pakistani diplomat, said at the Aspen Security Forum in 2016 [PDF]. "And we basically need to get beyond this blame game and sit down, discuss these issues candidly with each other, and find solutions."
The issue of Pakistan's terror stance reemerged last late month when a Pakistani court ordered the full release of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, an Islamist for whom the U.S. government is offering a $10 million reward. The U.S. government says Saeed is suspected of "masterminding" the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India in which a terror group Saeed founded killed 166 people including six Americans.
Trump recently dispatched Secretary of Defense James Mattis to Pakistan to speak with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi about the issue of terrorism.
Before meeting with Mattis today, Abbasi told reporters that the "engagement is there" between the U.S. and Pakistan on the issue of terrorism and that the countries "need to movie forward," according to a local news report.
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