Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa
Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched a new peace initiative for Afghanistan on Thursday, reaching out to the man Washington believes can help them achieve this objective, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Later, he announced that American and Nato troops in Afghanistan will also observe a temporary ceasefire that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has offered to the Taliban.

A statement released by State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the top US diplomat telephoned the army chief and discussed with him the “need for political reconciliation in Afghanistan and the importance of targeting all militant and terrorist groups in South Asia without distinction.”

They also talked about “ways to advance US-Pakistan bilateral relations”, Ms Nauert added.

Bill Gates praises efforts in fight against polio

All three subjects – relations with Pakistan, Afghan reconciliation and fighting terrorists – are Washington’s main concern in the South Asian region.

Diplomatic observers in Washington say that like previous US governments, the Trump administration also believes that the Pakistan Army has a key role in restoring peace to Afghanistan and that’s why Mr Pompeo called Gen Bajwa, instead of the country’s political leadership.

The observers say that there must be “an urgent reason” for making this unusual call, as Americans prefer to use the Pentagon channel to communicate with a general. They point out that even strained relations with Pakistan did not prevent the Pentagon from maintaining its contacts with Rawalpindi, as top US generals often speak with their counterparts in the Pakistani military establishment.

Earlier this month, Secretary Pompeo told a congressional hearing in Washington that the US was now encouraging direct talks between Taliban and Afghan government officials as the first step towards ending the conflict, which has been simmering for the past 17 years.

Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo

And Gen John Nicholson, who commands US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, said earlier this week that the Trump administration has succeeded in arranging direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

The two statements created an impression in Washington that the Trump administration was now exploring the possibility of bypassing Pakistan by promoting direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

On Thursday, Secretary Pompeo issued a statement, welcoming President Ghani’s offer of a temporary ceasefire to the Taliban to allow the Afghan people to celebrate Eidul Fitr without fear of violence. The offer follows the Afghan Ulema Council’s call for the Taliban to end their campaign of violence against the Afghan people and government.

“This ceasefire further demonstrates the Afghan government’s commitment to explore ways to end the conflict,” Mr Pompeo said, and “underscores its commitment to peace as both a national and religious responsibility.”

Secretary Pompeo announced that in support of the Afghan government’s initiative, “Nato’s Resolute Support Mission and US forces in Afghanistan will respect the ceasefire, as it applies to the Taliban.”

He, however, made it clear that the offer does not apply to the militant Islamic State group and Al Qaeda, nor does it prohibit operations to defend Afghan and Coalition forces from attack.

“The United States and our international partners look to the Taliban to honor the ceasefire and demonstrate their respect for the people of Afghanistan who have long called for a reprieve to the Taliban’s campaign of violence,” Mr Pompeo said.

Meanwhile, co-founder of Microsoft Bill Gates called General Bajwa and acknowledged supporting efforts by Pakistan Army for successfully eradicating polio from Pakistan.

The army chief appreciated efforts of Bill Gates towards this noble cause and assured him continued full cooperation in best interest of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2018

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