–US official lauds Pakistan’s role in Afghan peace process, highlights issue of ‘militant havens’ in country
A week after its intelligence director accused Pakistan of undermining United States’ interest in the region by providing “safe havens to militants“, US Central Command Commander General Joseph Votel on Friday said Pakistan will always be a “country of importance” for the United States.
Gen Joseph made the comment while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee and said, “As a state possessing nuclear weapons that sits at the nexus of Russian, Chinese, Indian, Iranian, and US geopolitical interests, Pakistan will always retain its importance to the US.”
He further said that any agreement to resolve the 17-year-old conflict in Afghanistan would ensure Pakistan’s ‘equities’.
In light of the recent efforts between Pakistan, the US, and Afghanistan to hold talks with the Taliban, the top US military official lauded Pakistan’s cooperation with the State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.
“If Pakistan plays a positive role in achieving a settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, the US will have opportunity and motive to help Pakistan fulfill that role, as peace in the region is the most important mutual priority for the US and Pakistan,” he said.
General Joseph further said that Afghanistan’s uncertain political situation is the greatest risk to the stability in the region and the US hopes that Pakistan among other countries will play a constructive role in achieving peace.
“Our posture with Pakistan involves supporting our colleagues at the Department of State as they pursue a diplomatic solution with Islamabad to end the conflict in Afghanistan while ensuring that Pakistan’s equities are acknowledged and addressed in any future agreement,” he added.
He further addressed the issue of violent and extremist organisations (VEOs) and said, “Pakistan has not taken concrete actions against the safe havens of VEOs inside its borders. Similarly, VEOs located in Afghanistan conduct attacks inside Pakistan. This cross-border instability and violence generate tension along both sides of the border.”
He further acknowledged the importance of military cooperation between the two countries.
The Taliban on Wednesday hailed unprecedented talks with Afghan opposition politicians as “very successful”, despite disagreements over women’s rights and the group’s demand for an Islamic constitution in the war-torn country.
The extraordinary two-day gathering in Moscow saw Taliban leaders stand shoulder-to-shoulder with former president Hamid Karzai, who called the insurgents his “brothers” as both sides agreed to seek lasting peace.
No government official was invited to the roundtable, which saw heavyweight Afghan politicians and other sworn enemies of the Taliban praying and dining with the militants.
It was the second time President Ashraf Ghani was frozen out of such talks in recent weeks after the US held entirely separate discussions with the insurgents in Doha without Kabul.
According to experts, “Regional powers — including US foes Iran and Russia — are angling for an audience with the Taliban, who are already outlining their vision for Islamic rule once foreign troops leave.”
“Ghani’s allies in Washington insist Afghans should lead the peace process, and ostensibly the months-long push by the US to engage the Taliban has been aimed at convincing them to negotiate with Kabul,” it added.
“It’s a major snub because, without the Americans, the government in Kabul cannot survive,” said Gilles Dorronsoro, a French researcher specialising in Afghanistan.