WASHINGTON: In a rare display of agreement on the Afghan issue, the United States and Pakistan have both reiterated the need for including the Taliban in the Afghan peace process.

Yet differences over the alleged presence of militant safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) continue to plague a decades-old relationship between the two countries.

“One of the things that the Secretary [of State] feels very strongly about is trying to get to a place where we can have some sort of a peace process,” said State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert while sharing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s views on how to resolve the Afghan conflict.

“And that means actually sitting down and talking with members of the Taliban and starting to facilitate that kind of dialogue,” she said at the department’s latest news briefing.

Pakistan’s US envoy Ambas­sa­dor Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry expr­essed similar views in his address to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington on Tuesday afternoon.

“Pakistan continues to support an inclusive political reconciliation process in Afghanistan as the only viable path towards obtaining lasting peace in the region,” he said, adding that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Ms Nauert explained that while the military option was part of an overall strategy for Afghanistan “in the long run you have to bring both sides to the table or multiple sides to the table together to determine their future”.

The White House has confirmed that a team of security and foreign policy experts are now working on a new strategy to end the Afghan war.

While the new strategy may lead to an addition of about 5,000 US troops to those already deployed in Afghanistan, the White House has said that diplomacy will be a key component.

The White House has also confirmed that the new strategy would go beyond Afghanistan and cover the entire South Asian region — from India to Iran and part of Central Asia.

Speaking at a seminar in Colorado earlier this week, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen Joseph Dunford said “a critical element of our strategy in the region has to be Pakistan.”

Gen Dunford also said that the US “cannot be successful in Afghanistan — we’ve seen that over the last several years, unless we have a higher degree of cooperation from Pakistan”.

At the State Department briefing, Ms Nauert avoided several attempts by an Afghan journalist to blame Pakistan for this week’s terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

Asked if she was still optimistic about involving Taliban in the Afghan peace process, Ms Nauert said that it was premature to say that but “when we can get to the point where we might be able to help facilitate along with Afghanistan to get people to sit down and talk together then that would certainly be a step in the right direction”.

Until that point was reached, the United States would continue to support its Afghan partners, she added.

In his address to the Washington think-tank, Ambassador Chaud­hry identified key steps for restoring peace and stability in Afgha­nis­tan, including intra-Afghan reconciliation, robust border management, repatriation of Afghan refugees and close cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2017



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