ISLAMABAD — Amid Washington's concerns over "terrorist safe havens" in Pakistan, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived in the country Dec. 4 to shore up bilateral ties that have seen a marked downslide in the past few months.
Mattis, on his maiden visit to Pakistan since taking charge at the Pentagon, met Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and other senior officials.
His visit comes as CIA Director Mike Pompeo has in a stern warning said if Islamabad does not eliminate terrorist "safe havens" in its territory, the U.S. will do "everything" it can to destroy them.
Ahead of his visit, Mattis said the U.S. would "work hard on finding common ground" and "work together" with Pakistan.
Matters of mutual interest, including the U.S. policy in South Asia and Afghan peace efforts, were discussed during the meeting with Prime Minister Abbasi, according to Geo News.
The defense secretary was also briefed on efforts and measures taken to secure the Pakistan-Afghan border.
Inter-Services Intelligence Director General Lt. Gen. Naveed Mukhtar, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Defense Minister Khurram Dastagir and National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. (retd) Naseer Khan Janjua were among those who attended the meeting.
Earlier, Mattis arrived at the Nur Khan Airbase where he was received by officials from the Defense and Foreign Ministries.
Mattis' trip aims "to re-affirm the enduring U.S. commitment to partnerships" in the region, according to a press release by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Earlier, speaking to reporters, the U.S. defense chief said: "We have heard from Pakistan leaders that they do not support terrorism. So I expect to see that sort of action reflected in their policies."
Asked if he was going to press the Pakistani leaders to take more action against the insurgents, Mattis stated that the country was taking action in its own best interests and "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."
His visit comes days after a Pakistan court ordered the release from house arrest of the Nov. 26, 2008, Mumbai attack mastermind and Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed. The U.S. had last week directed Pakistan to immediately charge and arrest Saeed and warned of repercussions if it did not comply.
Ties between Washington and Islamabad have seen a dip since President Donald Trump announced his new Afghan and South Asia policy in August.
Pakistan has also been upset at Trump's calls for an increased Indian role in rebuilding Afghanistan.
Last week, the commander of U.S forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, said Islamabad had not carried out the "clear" demands made by Washington.
The U.S. top brass have long been frustrated by what they see as Pakistan's reluctance to act against groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, which launch attacks on neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistan, nevertheless, says it has done a great deal to help the U.S. in tracking down terrorists.
Its military – in response to Trump's accusation that Islamabad was harboring "agents of chaos" and offering safe havens to militant groups waging an insurgency against a U.S.-backed government in Kabul – had brushed off speculation that the U.S. head of state could signal a stronger line against Islamabad.
"Let it come," Pakistani military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters. "Even if it comes... Pakistan shall do whatever is best in the national interest."
Mattis began his five-day tour of the Middle East – including Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait – and Islamabad Dec. 1.