The US State Department has issued a statement encouraging the Afghan government and Taliban to focus on the current peace process so they may jointly prevent the machinations of the so-called Islamic State of Iran and Syria (ISIS) from succeeding.
“We are still looking into what or who is responsible, but I would note that ISIS has been responsible for similar attacks on Shia communities in Kabul in the past,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told media persons in Washington on Monday, referring to the attack on a girl’s school in the war-torn country.
The United States welcomed the Taliban’s announcement of a three-day ceasefire over this week’s Eid holiday and urged it to extend the ceasefire as US troops withdraw from Afghanistan, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
The United States firmly condemned an attack on a girls school in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Saturday, but was still looking into who was responsible for an attack, Price said, adding that IS had been responsible for similar attacks.
The attack has raised fears of a deteriorating security situation ahead of President Joe Biden’s September 11 deadline for a drawdown of US forces.
The Taliban has denied involvement in Saturday’s attack.
“We call on the Taliban and Afghan leaders to engage seriously in the ongoing peace process to ensure the Afghan people enjoy a future free of terrorism and of senseless violence,” Price said.
Moreover, the US, along with this formal condemnation, showed interest in the Taliban’s denial of involvement and by urging them to work with the Afghan government to bring peace to a country that has been involved in one war after another for almost half a century.
“We note the Taliban has denied involvement in the attack, and we welcome their announcement of a three-day ceasefire over the upcoming Eid holiday,” Price said.
“We call on the Taliban and Afghan leaders to engage seriously in the ongoing peace process to ensure the Afghan people enjoy a future free of terrorism and of senseless violence.”
But Michael Kugelman, a Washington-based US scholar of South Asian affairs, said in a tweet that the Eid truce was welcome news, but this happened previously too and was never extended.
“There’s little reason to believe this year will be different. They offer much-needed brief respites, but sadly little more than that,” he said.
At Monday’s news briefing, some journalists also questioned the Biden administration’s trust in the Taliban, and warned that after the US withdrawal, such attacks might increase.
Some even suggested that future attacks, if intense, could force the US military to return to Afghanistan. However, the US State Department spokesperson rejected the possibility, saying the US was not abandoning Afghanistan.
“We are withdrawing our troops. We are not disengaging from Afghanistan. And we will continue to use our diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian toolset to ensure that the gains of the past 20 years, particularly those made by women, girls, and minorities, are preserved,” he said.
Explaining why he was welcoming the Taliban announcement and urging them to extend the ceasefire, he said: “We all know that a return to violence would be senseless as well as tragic. We remind the Taliban that engaging in violence will not afford it legitimacy or durability.”
The US, he said, has always urged all Afghan factions to engage in serious negotiations to determine a political roadmap for their country’s future that leads to a just and durable settlement.
“A just and durable settlement has been at the centre of our efforts. It’s in no one’s interest — we know this — for Afghanistan to devolve into civil war once again. It’s not in the Taliban’s interests, it’s not in the government of Afghanistan’s interests, it’s not in the interests of Afghanistan’s neighbours, and it’s certainly not in the interests of the people of Afghanistan,” he added.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad went a step ahead and said in a tweet that the US also wanted the Taliban to agree to a permanent ceasefire and political settlement to end the violence,
“Afghans deserve much more: a political settlement and a permanent ceasefire,” he wrote while commenting on the Taliban offer. “We therefore urge accelerated negotiations among Afghans on a political settlement and an end to this senseless war.”
Kugelman also emphasised the need for a permanent ceasefire, but he disagreed with the suggestion that aggravated violence in Afghanistan could bring the US military back.
“The threat emanating from Afghanistan is not sufficiently strong to warrant US forces staying. As horrific as this attack was, this is not the type of thing that would cause the US to change course because these are attacks that target Afghans,” he said.
Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa also visited Kabul on Monday and in a meeting with President Ghani, offered Pakistan’s support for political negotiations with the Taliban.
“We will always support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process based on mutual consensus of all stakeholders,” a Pakistani military statement said.
Gen Bajwa was accompanied in the meeting by British Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter. The United Kingdom has about 750 troops among the Nato contingent of 7,000 in Afghanistan.
Recent reports in the Pakistani media suggest that Islamabad has intensified its efforts to convince the Taliban to commit to a ceasefire.