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Tell Taliban peace has no alternative, says US

Updated December 06, 2016

WASHINGTON: The United States has urged Afghanistan’s neighbours to make it clear to the Taliban that there is no alternative to a negotiated settlement of the Afghan dispute.

The statement, issued on the conclusion of the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar on Sunday, does not name any country but in previous remarks US officials have directly asked Pakistan to facilitate talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

“The door to negotiations is open; the Taliban must be pressed, and must choose, to walk through that door,” said Laurel Miller, acting US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We encourage all countries of the region to support the Afghan government in seeking a much broader peace and to take every opportunity to make it clear to the Taliban first that a negotiated settlement of the conflict is a necessity and second that the Taliban has a genuine opportunity to participate in a peace process,” she added.

On Friday, the commander of the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, Gen John Nicholson, told a news briefing at the Pentagon that Pakistan, Iran and Russia had considerable influence on the Taliban and they could play a key role in bringing political stability to Afghanistan.

Gen Nicholson also said that the Haqqani network of terrorists, which was fighting alongside the Taliban, still posed the greatest threat to Americans, coalition and Afghan partners from its alleged sanctuary in Pakistan.

In her statement at the Heart of Asia conference, Ms Miller noted that while the international community had continued to support the Afghan government, “what is … arguably more important over the long run is the support and partnership of Afghanistan’s neighbours”.

The US official warned that the threat of terrorism “remains very real” in Afghanistan and throughout the region and all regional states needed to work together to deal with this threat.

This is the second year since Afghan forces assumed full security responsibility for their country, and US officials have praised their performance against the militants but they have also warned that the fight could get more intense in the coming years.

And Washington wants Afghanistan’s neighbours, particularly Pakistan, to support the Afghan government as it strives to create the conditions for a durable peace.

“An Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process is the surest way to end the conflict and bring stability to Afghanistan. The United States strongly and without reservations supports such a process,” Ms Miller said.

“We commend the Afghan government for concluding a peace agreement with Hizb-i-Islami, and believe that successful implementation of the agreement can send an important message to other militant groups.”

The US official appealed to the eight Heart of Asia countries — including China, India and Pakistan — to increase economic and energy connectivity to bring greater prosperity to Afghanistan and the region. “All regional and international initiatives that aim to develop linkages among the economies of the region deserve our collective support,” she said.

Ms Miller noted that in their discussions on Sunday, the conference’s participants shared an understanding that the security, political stability and economic prosperity of Afghanistan and the region were inextricably intertwined.

“We commend our partners here for their contributions to Afghanistan, and for cooperation within this forum that helps promote our common goal of stronger regional integration. The United States remains resolute in the pursuit of the goals of the Heart of Asia,” she said.

Published in Dawn December 6th, 2016