US calls for action on Taliban safe havens, Pak envoy demands proof

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Barely an hour after the White House called upon Pakistan to “expel and arrest” Taliban leaders operating from its soil on Monday, Pakistani ambassador to the US claimed his country had already evicted them and their facilities and threw an “open challenge” to anyone who could point to surviving safe havens.

“We call on Pakistan to immediately arrest or expel the Taliban’s leaders and prevent the group from using Pakistani territory to support its operations,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at the top of her daily briefing, condemning the terrorist attack on a Kabul Hotel over the weekend.

The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in which at least 22 civilians were killed, including foreign nationals. The six attackers were killed by Afghan forces, the government in Kabul had said. The Afghan government did not mention Pakistan.

Shortly after Sanders’ briefing, Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said at a think-tank, his country’s military forces had “cleaned out” all terrorists, their “hideouts and sanctuaries and their IED (improvised explosive devices) factories” from Pakistan in operations since 2014 and “when somebody turns around and tells us that there are safe havens existing there we say to them please show us where”.

“It’s an open challenge,” the envoy added. “It’s been 10 months or so we have been saying please show us we will ourselves like to eliminate (them) if someone is hiding in any caves in Pakistan.” The reference to “10 months” was possibly to the length of the ambassador’s tenure in DC after assuming office in March 2017.

Chaudhry was the key speaker at a talk on the current state of US-Pakistan relations and its future at the Centre for Strategic and International Relations, a leading Washington DC think-tank on security-related global issues. The relation between the two countries has dipped significantly in recent months.

President Donald Trump and senior officials of his administration have repeatedly and openly called upon Pakistan to cease sheltering terrorists in a notable display of toughness lacking previously.

President Trump couldn’t have been clearer himself, as he wrote in a New Year day tweet, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Days after, the administration announced it was suspending nearly $2 billion in security-related aid to Pakistan for failure to take “decisive action” against terrorists operating from its soil. And officials have kept up the pressure since, calling upon Islamabad to do more, as did White House Press Secretary Sanders on Monday.

And Pakistan, it appears from Chaudhry’s remarks, will continue to deploy the same scripted defense that starts by blaming the United States for starting Pakistan down that path to combat Soviet Union in Afghanistan, abandoning it, and, finally, leaving it to clean up the mess, which Islamabad now claims proudly it has.

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