WASHINGTON: Afghanistan can have peace only through a political solution, said the US State Department while speakers at a Washington think tank urged Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to join the peace process.
Proceedings of the Atlantic Council’s panel discussion echoed at the State Department’s news briefing on Thursday afternoon when a journalist sought the department’s views on the claim made there that Pakistan was still allowing terrorists to use its territories for launching attacks into Afghanistan.
The State Department did not blame Pakistan. “The United States sees in Afghanistan eventually a political solution to try to bring peace. A military solution would be very difficult to try to bring peace to Afghanistan,” the department’s spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
“It’s been far too long that folks there have been fighting, and we continue to support the government of Afghanistan. That’s all I have to say about that,” she added.
Afghan experts at US think tanks believe there is an opportunity to influence the US policymaking process by publicly sharing their views on issues concerning Afghanistan.
This was also obvious at the Atlantic Council’s panel discussion where speakers urged the Trump administration to “deepen” US involvement in Afghanistan and not to withdraw American troops from the war-torn country without eliminating terrorism.
Three of these speakers — Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations; Manish Tewari, a former Indian minister and now a senior fellow with the council’s South Asia Centre; and Ashley Tellis, Tata chair for strategic affairs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace — used the opportunity for blaming Pakistan for the troubles the United States was facing in Afghanistan.
And Pakistan’s ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary had to face the hostility of the audience — and the derision of fellow speakers — when he rejected their claims and advised them not to blame Islamabad for everything that’s wrong in Afghanistan.
Mr Tellis warned that there’s a “real possibility” that the Trump administration, “if it is not successful within some acceptable period of time, could choose to reduce its commitment to Afghanistan and ultimately withdraw”.
He then suggested that “an assortment of terrorist groups” found sanctuary in Pakistan, but now it was in Islamabad’s own interest to “redouble its efforts” to compel the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal with Kabul before the US left.
Mr Khalilzad claimed that “the fact that these sanctuaries exist cannot be disputed” and urged Washington to probe “how deep into Pakistan do the logistic lines in support of these terrorists actually extend”.
He advised Pakistan to “tell the Taliban that if they don’t enter a peace process they will not be allowed to operate from Pakistan”.
Mr Tewari urged Pakistan to think why Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who went to Rawalpindi to meet the Pakistan Army chief, turned against Islamabad.
Mr Chaudhry condemned the trend to “blame anything and everything” on Pakistan. “To say that Pakistan is responsible for everything is over-simplistic, and if you keep doing that I think you are barking at the wrong tree and will not be able to get to a solution,” he said.
“What sanctuaries you are talking about? If you want to live in the past, you cannot solve the present. Haqqani and the Taliban are not our friends,” Ambassador Chaudhary said. “They are not our proxies. What Quetta Shura you are talking about? What Peshawar Shura?”
Mr Khalilzad did not like this outright rejection of his allegations and interrupted the ambassador, further adding to the acrimony of an already tense discourse.
Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2017