Washington has given a list of 75 Afghan militants to Islamabad in its bid to increase pressure on Pakistan to act against terror groups operating from that country.
"The Haqqani network is on the top of the list, but none of the militants are Pakistanis," Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told lawmakers on Wednesday, referring to the list.
The list is part of a series of efforts by Washington to move toward the implementation of its new South Asia strategy, announced by President Donald Trump in August, in which countries were put on notice not to tolerate within their borders militant safe havens, which terror groups use to disrupt regional security.
The list of militants was reportedly handed over to Pakistani civil and military leaders by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who, on a trip to the Middle East and South Asia, visited Islamabad on Tuesday to urge Pakistan to deny safe havens to militant groups.
Tillerson on Pakistan
Tillerson told reporters at a news conference in Geneva, the last stop of his five-day, six-nation trip, that he'd conveyed a very clear message to Pakistan.
"Here's what we need for Pakistan to do. We are asking you to do this; we are not demanding anything. You are a sovereign country. You'll decide what you want to do, but understand this is what we think is necessary," Tillerson said. "And if you don't want to do that, don't feel you can do it, we'll adjust our tactics and our strategies to achieve the same objective a different way."
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, however, said many of the Taliban leaders whose names were on the list were now operating as "shadow governors" in neighboring Afghanistan, or were no longer alive.
Kabul and Washington have not yet commented on Asif's remarks. U.S. and Afghan officials have in the past indicated that Afghan Taliban members were enjoying safe havens in Pakistan.
The Haqqani network, a U.S.-designated terrorist group that has been blamed for numerous deadly attacks inside Afghanistan against the U.S.-led NATO forces and the Afghan government, is reportedly based in Miram Shah, a town in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in northern Pakistan.
While Tillerson's recent move was significant — it was one of the first concrete indications that the Trump administration is taking a tougher line on Pakistan to get it to crack down more robustly on terror — the real significance will depend on how Pakistan complies, analysts said.
"There is good reason to believe that Pakistan will act on this request to an extent. It will want to convince Washington that it is ready to cooperate," Michael Kugelman, a Pakistan analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, told VOA.
"That said, there is also good reason to believe that this list contains some terrorists that Pakistan won't want to go after, particularly high-value Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network leaders that serve as useful assets to the Pakistani security establishment," Kugelman added.
The significance of Tillerson's gesture also depends on how the U.S. will respond if Pakistan does not deliver, he said.
"Would the U.S. try to go after these terrorists with drone strikes? Or might it even send commandos into Pakistan to apprehend them?" Kugelman said.
Tillerson, however, said the U.S. cares more about Pakistan's actions than the country's rhetoric.
"We put our expectations forward in no uncertain terms. We're going to chart our course consistent with what Pakistan not just says they do, but what they actually do," Tillerson said, adding that he had "frank and candid" discussions with leaders in Pakistan.
Following his meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other senior Afghan government officials at Bagram Air Base, close to Kabul, Tillerson said the U.S. would be in Afghanistan for as long as it took and that the Taliban would not achieve a military victory.
"And there are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever," Tillerson said in Afghanistan. "There's a place for them in the government if they are ready to come, renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence and being committed to a stable, prosperous Afghanistan."
Pakistan is viewed by many as an influential facilitator in the Afghan peace process.
Following Tillerson's departure from Pakistan, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad issued a statement highlighting U.S. expectations from Pakistan to help end the violence in Afghanistan.
"The secretary reiterated President Trump's message that Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within the country," the statement read. "To address those concerns, the secretary outlined the United States' new South Asia Strategy and the vital role that Pakistan can play in working with the United States and others to facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan."
Pakistan's Asif, however, said his country's influence on the Afghan Taliban had lately diminished and that the group had found "new sponsors" in the region, a suggestion that the insurgent group has established ties to Iran and Russia.