US defence chief James Mattis to visit Pakistan on Dec 4

WASHINGTON (AFP): US Secretary of Defence James Mattis will arrive in Pakistan on December 4 to hold talks with civil and military leadership in a bid to narrow the trust deficit that has strained ties between two countries.

On Friday, James Mattis embarked on a five-day trip to Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and Kuwait, the Pentagon said.

Mattis is scheduled to meet with leaders of each nation “to re-affirm the enduring US commitment to partnerships in the Middle East, West Africa and South Asia”, it said in a statement.

In Pakistan, the US defence secretary will hold meetings with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss bilateral ties.

Pakistan and the US have been unable to bridge their differences despite a series of high-level meetings in the wake of President Donald Trump’s speech bitterly criticizing Pakistan for allegedly housing the very terrorists Americans are fighting in Afghanistan.

Last month, United States Central Command (Centcom) Commander Gen Joseph Votel visited Pakistan, where he held a series of meetings with Pakistani civil and military leadership.

Apart from PM Abbasi, the Centcom commander also met Gen Bajwa, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Zubair Hayat and Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar.

His visit followed the trip of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October.

Trump’s blistering speech in August accusing Pakistan of harbouring militants saw Islamabad angrily hit back at the claims, insisting they discount the thousands of lives lost and billions spent in fighting extremism.

Following the speech, Tillerson cautioned Pakistan that it could lose its status as a privileged military ally if it continued providing support to Afghan militant groups.