Jim Mattis met Pakistan's civilian and military leaders and urged them to "redouble" their efforts to rein in militants accused of using the country as a base to carry out attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan.

his handout photo released by Pakistan's Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on December 4, 2017 shows Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa (R) speaking with US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis during a meeting in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
his handout photo released by Pakistan's Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on December 4, 2017 shows Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa (R) speaking with US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis during a meeting in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. ( AFP )

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Pakistan Monday but vowed to tread lightly and find "common ground" as Washington pressures its wayward ally to eliminate militant safe havens.

The US defence secretary met Pakistan's civilian and military leaders and urged them to "redouble" their efforts to rein in militants accused of using the country as a base to carry out attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Mattis, on a one-day visit to Pakistan, said the South Asian nation had made progress in the fight against militancy inside its borders but needed to make more.

In his discussion with Mattis, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the two allies shared objectives.

"We're committed (to) the war against terror," he said. "Nobody wants peace in Afghanistan more than Pakistan."

"The Secretary reiterated that Pakistan must redouble its efforts to confront militants and terrorists operating within the country," the Pentagon said in a statement.

Mattis also met with high-ranking officials from Pakistan's powerful military, including army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Lieutenant-General Naveed Mukhtar, the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.

A US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mattis' conversations had been "straightforward" and specific. The official said one of the topics of conversation was getting Pakistan to help bring the Taliban to the negotiating table

The visit, his first as defence secretary, came days after the US voiced concerns after a Pakistani court freed one of the alleged masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and as the US pushes its longtime ally to do more to combat insurgents who allegedly use bases in Pakistan's tribal belt to target NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has consistently rejected claims it supports Taliban-allied forces, insisting it maintains contacts with insurgents only as a means to bring them to the table for peace talks.

Last week the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, said Islamabad had not carried out the "clear" demands made by Washington.

But en route to Pakistan Mattis told reporters he would not use pressure as a tactic, and insisted he would do "some listening".

When asked if he would "prod" Islamabad to take more action, he replied, "That's not the way I deal with issues. I believe that we work hard on finding the common ground, and then we work together, so that's the approach I want to take."

A statement released later Monday from Abbasi's office echoed the term "common ground", and said Mattis had emphasised he was "keenly aware" of the thousands of lives Pakistan has lost in its long battle with militancy. 

But Mattis's comments stood in contrast to more strident language from the CIA chief at a security forum over the weekend. 

When asked about US efforts to push Pakistan to clear safe havens, CIA director Mike Pompeo suggested Washington was prepared to move if its ally failed to act. 

"In the absence of the Pakistanis achieving that, we're going to do everything we can to make sure that safe haven no longer exists," said Pompeo.

'Clear demands'

President Donald Trump first signalled that the US was reassessing its fractious relations with Pakistan in August, when he accused Islamabad of harbouring "agents of chaos."

The remarks triggered a series of high-level diplomatic meetings in the US and Pakistan, but Islamabad has given few signs of concessions. 

Relations suffered a further blow after a Pakistani court ordered the release of firebrand cleric Hafiz Saeed in late November, prompting a furious response from the White House.

Saeed heads the UN-listed terrorist group Jamaat ud Dawa and has a $10 million US bounty on his head. 

He had been under house arrest but was released after a court in Lahore said officials had not provided any evidence of his role in the days-long assault on India's financial capital which killed more than 160 people.

The decision to release Saeed coincided with the beleaguered government's capitulation to protesters by a group of hardliners holding a sit-in in the Pakistani capital.

The deal, which the military helped broker, saw the federal law minister resign over blasphemy allegations.

It sent shockwaves through the country, sparking fears that the military was doing little to keep extremism in check after supporting the demands of a small group of hardliners. 

Political analyst Imtiaz Gul said the latest US effort to push Pakistan would likely fall short again. 

"It will always remain a point of friction between the two countries because the US is using Afghanistan as a benchmark for Pakistan to deliver on its demands," said Gul. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies