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Trump implores South Asia to step up on Afghanistan

US president tells neighboring Pakistan to crack down on terrorist cells

YUJI KURONUMA, Nikkei staff writer | India

NEW DELHI -- Unveiling a new strategy on Afghanistan that is thin on specifics, U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday leaned on Pakistan and India to do more to help the war-ravaged country defeat terrorist forces.

"We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organizations," Trump said, criticizing what he sees as the country's lacking effort to fighting terrorism.

The U.S. last year withheld funding to Pakistan under its Coalition Support Funds program, which was designed to financially assist countries in their fight against terror. "We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists we are fighting," Trump said.

"It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace," he added.

Since 2014 under then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan has stepped up its offensive against militant groups in the country. It even claimed to have killed 2,700 militants in the first year alone. But neighboring Afghanistan claims that Pakistan is harboring the Taliban within its territory and effectively allowing the group to launch cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.

Responding to Trump's speech, the Taliban issued a statement on Wednesday saying Afghans have proven their ability to fight against American invaders over the last 16 years, and that the group's members will continue fighting as long as they are alive. The Taliban has been launching more attacks in Afghanistan's western, southern and northern regions, expanding its area of control.

Attacks tied to the Islamic State terrorist group are also on the rise. The Afghan military remains weak despite receiving training from the U.S., and the government now controls only about 60% of the country's territory. It continues to face a tough battle against the Taliban and other extremist groups.

Meanwhile, India, which has suffered cross-border terror attacks from Pakistan in its disputed Kashmir region, praised Trump's speech. "We welcome President Trump's determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges facing Afghanistan and confronting issues of safe havens," India's Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement Tuesday.

Trump in his speech called on India to provide more economic aid to Afghanistan. The ministry had provided over $2 billion in economic assistance to Afghanistan as of last year, and vowed in its statement to "continue these efforts." By suggesting greater Indian involvement in the situation, the U.S. is likely ratcheting up the pressure on Pakistan to get control of the situation.

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