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‘US should make counter terror top priority in Pak talks’

Washington: Ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a leading American analyst today said President Barack Obama must make Pakistan’s support to terrorists as a top priority in his talks with the Pakistani premier instead of nuclear mainstreaming of a country that has a dubious record on proliferation.

“The US cannot turn a blind eye to Islamabad’s failure to crack down on terrorists that threaten US national security interests and regional stability. Elevating discussions about a nuclear deal without linking it to US counterterrorism concerns in Pakistan would be, at best, a waste of time. At worst, it would facilitate Pakistan’s risky regional strategy of harbouring terrorists under a nuclear shield,” Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation said in an op-ed article.

Sharif is scheduled to arrive on an official visit to the US tonight and meet Obama at the White House on Thursday.

Ahead of the meeting, US media has speculated that the two countries could be inching towards a civil nuclear deal.

Both the countries have said that no such deal is likely to be inked during the current trip of the Pakistan Prime Minister, but had acknowledged that nuclear issues would be among the topics of discussion.

“If President Obama focuses his meeting with Prime Minister Sharif on reaching a nuclear accommodation with Pakistan, rather than addressing Pakistan’s problematic terrorism policies, he will send the wrong signal that the counter-terrorism status quo in Pakistan is acceptable to the US,” she said.

Instead Obama should prioritise counterterrorism issues and convince Pakistan to use its influence to bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table, crack down on Haqqani network sanctuaries and re-arrest Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the LeT mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, she said.

“It would be a mistake for the Obama administration to separate the nuclear and counterterrorism issues in its discussions with Pakistan,” Curtis said.

“Compartmentalising Pakistan’s approach to terrorism from its handling of its nuclear assets is not sound policy when considering fundamental US national security interests in South Asia, including preventing an Indo-Pakistani military conflict that could potentially go nuclear, and ensuring that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stay safe and secure and out of the hands of terrorists,” the noted American expert on South Asian issues said.

Curtis said there is concern that Islamist extremist groups with links to the Pakistani security establishment could exploit those links to gain access to nuclear weapons technology, facilities, or materials.

“The realisation that Osama bin Laden lived for six years within a half-mile of Pakistan’s premier defence academy has fuelled concern that al-Qaeda can operate relatively freely in parts of Pakistan and will eventually gain access to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal,” she said.