WASHINGTON: India and Iran will be included in the Afghan peace process at a later stage, a senior US official has said while recognising Pakistan’s role as well.

In tweets sent after he spoke at a Washington think tank on Tuesday, Ambassador Richard Olson said: “Pakistan does remain committed to the process of reconciliation and talks in Afghanistan.”

Mr Olson was the US ambassador in Islamabad before he was called back to Washington late last year and made the US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He noted that both India and Iran had stakes in Afghanistan’s future and said that’s why they would be included in peace efforts at a later stage.

But Washington’s priority now was to get the talks started, he added.

Ambassador Olson said the US decision to eliminate Taliban leader Mullah Mansour and give combat powers to American troops in Afghanistan should not be seen as indication of a lack of interest in the peace process.

“The Taliban’s repeated refusal to join talks with the Afghan government contributed to the US decision to take action against Mullah Mansur on May 21,” he said.

He noted that some commentators interpreted the strike as indicating a shift in US strategy or a weakening of its commitment to the peace process. “It has not,” he said.

“Mullah Mansur was an obstacle to peace, posed a continued threat to US persons through his support for operations against US forces, and was perpetuating a war without end.”

On June 9, President Obama gave the US military the power to assist the Afghan military in combat missions against the Taliban.

But Ambassador Olson pointed out that while announcing these decisions, “President Obama made clear … that the removal of Mullah Mansur and the expanded US authority do not represent a strategic shift in our approach to Afghanistan.”

The envoy assured the international community that the US was not resuming day-to-day combat operations in Afghanistan.

“The Afghan national defence and security forces have full responsibility, as they should, for providing security in their country,” he said. “Nonetheless, this strike should make clear to all parties in the region that the United States is fully prepared to protect its interests.”

Emphasising the US commitment to fight terrorism, Mr Olson said: “Even though the United States has ceased combat operations against the Taliban, we will continue to protect our people and our interests.”

But the determination to fight for its interests had not lessened US commitment to seeking a negotiated settlement to the Afghan dispute, he said.

“We will also continue to encourage an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process in which the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban can bring this conflict to an end.”

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2016

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