WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s concerns over India’s role in Afghanistan were “overestimated”, US special envoy Richard Olson said on Tuesday, while urging Pakistan to focus its attention on fighting terrorists.
Addressing a think tank, the Atlantic Council, in Washington, Mr Olson also said the United States would provide more than $3 billion a year in support for the Afghan national security forces from 2018 through 2020.
Mr Olson, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the administration planned to ask Congress for about $1bn a year in development and economic assistance for Afghanistan from 2018 to 2020.
‘The country will not have bright future until it takes action against Taliban’
Disagreeing with Pakistan’s concerns that India was using its strong presence in Afghanistan to stir trouble in Balochistan, the US envoy said: “India has been a supportive partner for Afghanistan. It has provided a limited amount but important military assistance (to Afghanistan).”
Mr Olson, who was the US Ambassador to Pakistan before taking up his present assignment, was asked to comment on the perception in Pakistan that India had set up 24 consulates in Afghanistan, some close to the Pakistani border.
There were only “four Indian consulates in Afghanistan”, said the US envoy while explaining how the perceived Indian threat was exaggerated in Pakistan.
“I sometimes feel that the degree of Indian influence on Afghanistan may be overestimated in Pakistan,” he added.
Mr Olson reminded Pakistani decision makers that they had their own security concerns and needed to focus on them.
“Pakistan will not be secure, until and unless” it took action against terrorist organisations, like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, he said.
He, however, noted that the ongoing military operations in Waziristan had curbed terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, which resulted in reducing violence and stabilising the Pakistani economy.
But Pakistan’s reluctance to take strong action against terrorist networks that carry out attacks outside its territory had impaired its success in curbing terrorism at home, he added. “Pakistan will not have a bright future until and unless it goes after the Taliban,” he warned.
Mr Olson noted that the Afghan Taliban had consolidated themselves under the new leadership, which took charge after a US drone strike eliminated Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour in Balochistan last month.
He appreciated Pakistan’s commitment to the Afghan peace process and urged Islamabad to use its influence on the Taliban to persuade them to join reconciliation talks.
The Wall Street Journal, however, reported on Tuesday that some peacemakers viewed the drone strike that killed Mullah Mansour as a setback to their efforts to restore peace to the war-ravaged country.
“Striking the leadership was a mistake,” said Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, secretary-general of The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. “We need to interact with the Taliban’s leadership, not take them out.”
The Pugwash is a conflict-resolution group that met Taliban representatives in Qatar recently.
After the drone strike, the Pentagon called Mullah Mansour an obstacle to peace and President Barack Obama said he didn’t expect the Taliban to move towards peace talks soon, WSJ said.
But the Taliban appointed a hard-line religious leader to replace Mullah Mansour and stepped up attacks on government targets, the report added.
Published in Dawn, June 22th, 2016