Taliban must talk to Kabul, not Washington
The US has not seen a “decisive and sustained” change in the behaviour of Pakistan, even after the Trump Administration announced a $2 billion security assistance freeze to Islamabad nearly two months ago, a senior American official said on Tuesday.
“We’ve not seen decisive and sustained changes yet in Pakistan’s behaviour, but certainly we are continuing to engage with Pakistan over areas where we think they can play a helpful role in changing the calculus of the Taliban,” said Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia.
Briefing reporters on the just concluded Kabul conference in Afghanistan, she said, “We believe that Pakistan can certainly help to facilitate talks and to take actions that will put pressure on and encourage the Taliban to move forward towards a politically negotiated settlement.”
“We believe that Pakistan can certainly help to facilitate talks and to take actions that will put pressure on and encourage the Taliban to move forward towards a politically negotiated settlement,” Wells said in response to a question.
“And our engagement with Pakistan is on how we can work together, on how we can address Pakistan’s legitimate concerns and Afghanistan’s stability through a negotiated process as well,” she said.
“Pakistani officials have underscored, they see a variety of issues, whether it’s border management or refugees or terrorism that emanates from ungoverned space in Afghanistan, as important issues, and we would agree that all of these need to be resolved during the course of a reconciliation process,” Wells said.
Pakistan has concerns over border management; over the
Tehrik-i-Taliban; Pakistan’s presence in ungoverned space in Afghanistan; refugee concerns, she said.
Noting that the Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship is quite important, she said the US is supportive of the efforts to improve the bilateral relationship.
“We support that and think it’s important,” she said. The Trump Administration, she said, believes that the intensified efforts under the South Asia strategy to put military pressure on the Taliban are important, that these military efforts help shape the conditions for talks and help to underscore that there is no military victory for the Taliban, that ultimately their legitimate grievances will have to be addressed at a negotiating table.
“We’d like to see them come to this table sooner rather than later,” she said.
Alice Wells endorsed a recent overture by the Afghan government to the Taliban as a “benchmark event” on the road to peace, but said any talks should not involve the U.S., something the Taliban have insisted on. “We certainly cannot substitute for the Afghan government and the Afghan people,” Alice Wells.
“I think it probably caught the Taliban by surprise with how thoughtful and comprehensive the package that President Ghani was putting forward,” Ms. Wells said.
“This is not a surrender that’s being offered to the Taliban.” The Taliban haven’t formally responded to the proposal. The group has repeatedly said it would talk only with the U.S., which it regards as its principal adversary and the main prosecutor of the war.
“This is, unfortunately, the byproduct of what is going to be greater success,” Ms. Wells said of the attacks, attributing them to increased pressure on the group.