Kerry in unannounced trip to Pakistan for security talks

Kerry aims both to offer sympathy and to galvanize Pakistan to combat militants

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Pakistan on Monday on an unannounced trip to urge the government to do more to crack down on militant groups following last month’s massacre of 134 children by Taliban gunmen.

Kerry is due to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief Raheel Sharif as he aims both to offer sympathy and to galvanize Pakistan to combat militants who have used its territory to attack neighboring Afghanistan and India.

“We’ll be very clear, as we have on previous occasions, that the Pakistani fight against militarism has to root out all militant groups in Pakistan,” a senior State Department official told reporters before Kerry left Washington on Friday.

While acknowledging the army’s offensive against militants in areas near Afghanistan over the last six months, Kerry plans 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.

“Part of the secretary’s core message will be to ensure that actions are met with a real and sustained effort to 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,” said the official.

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 in the country. Pakistan denies that.

Pakistan’s Taliban, blamed for the Dec. 16 attack on the military-run school in Peshawar, are distinct from the Afghan Taliban but both share the goals of toppling their governments and setting up a strict Islamist state across the region.

In addition to bilateral meetings with the prime minister and army chief of staff, Kerry will co-chair the U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue with Sartaj Aziz, the national security and foreign affairs advisor to Nawaz Sharif.

Kerry will be joined by Gen. Lloyd Austin, who heads the U.S. Central Command which stretches across 18 nations in the Middle East, Central and South Asia from Egypt to Pakistan.

A Pakistani source told Reuters earlier that the Pakistani side would use the talks to ask Kerry to step up technical and training assistance for its program aimed at cracking down on extremism following the Peshawar attack.

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