ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in Pakistan on Monday during a visit intended to press the government to do more to crack down on militant groups after last month’s massacre of 134 children by Taliban gunmen.
Kerry met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as well as Army Chief Raheel Sharif on his unannounced trip, in which he aims both to offer sympathy and galvanize Pakistan to combat militants who have used its territory to attack neighboring Afghanistan and India.
Speaking as he met Kerry, Pakistani foreign adviser Sartaj Aziz suggested Kerry might visit Peshawar, the city where the Dec. 16 attack on an army-run school took place.
“We heard you are planning to visit Peshawar and the school,” Aziz said. “It is a very good gesture.” A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Kerry’s plans.
While noting the army’s offensive against militants in North Waziristan and other areas near Afghanistan, Kerry planned to call for more action to fight groups that Pakistani officials and generals have viewed as strategic assets in their rivalry with India and as they jockey for influence in Afghanistan.
In addition to his talks with the prime minister, Kerry also had a two-and-a-half hour dinner hosted by Sharif that included Pakistan army chief, the head of its ISI intelligence service and its interior minister, U.S. officials told reporters.
“The Pakistani delegation told us several times today they won’t differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban,” said one official, saying the Pakistanis said they would to go after all groups, not just those that threaten the Pakistani state.
Asked if he believed the assurances, a second U.S. official said: “I hope to believe it. We’ll have to see what develops.”
The official said that on Tuesday the United States would announce that it has set aside about $250 million to provide food, shelter and other basic services as well as reconstruction for those displaced by fighting in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including North Waziristan.
Before Kerry left Washington, his aides said that part of his “core message” to the Pakistanis was that they must “constrain the ability of the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Afghan Taliban, and other militants who pose a threat to regional stability and to direct U.S. interests.”
Lashkar-e-Taiba fights Indian rule in Kashmir and is accused of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed at least 163 people in India.
As for Haqqanis, the United States accuses Pakistan’s intelligence agency of supporting the network and using it as a proxy in Afghanistan to gain leverage against the influence of its arch-rival India. Pakistan denies that.
Pakistan’s Taliban, blamed for the Dec. 16 attack on the Peshawar school, are distinct from the Afghan Taliban but both share the goals of toppling their respective governments and of setting up a strict Islamist state across the region.
Writing by Maria Golovnina and Arshad Mohammed; additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Katharine Houreld in Islamabad; Editing by Dominic Evans