WASHINGTON: The United States and Pakistan have worked together in arranging a temporary ceasefire in Afghanistan, hoping that it would jump-start the Afghan reconciliation process, official and diplomatic sources told Dawn.
At a Thursday afternoon seminar, a senior US official confirmed that Washington was pursuing “multiple lines of effort” for bringing peace to Afghanistan and an important component of that effort was to ensure that Pakistan played “a constructive role” in it.
“We have asked for Pakistan’s assistance in facilitating a peace process,” said Lisa Curtis, a senior adviser to the US president.
Trump’s adviser Lisa Curtis says Islamabad’s assistance has been sought
“And we have sought to understand Pakistan’s own core security concerns and ensure that its interests are taken into account in any peace process.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that US and Nato troops in Afghanistan will also observe this truce and there will be no attack on the militants if they do not breach the ceasefire arrangement.
Pakistan’s role in the ceasefire was also discussed at a news briefing by a senior administration official in Washington. “We’re certainly hopeful that both the Taliban and those … or countries that have some degree of influence with the Taliban will equally support this limited duration ceasefire,” he said.
At this news briefing, called hours after Secretary Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence spoke to Pakistani leaders, journalists pointed out that while Washington and Islamabad present the ceasefire as an Afghan initiative, people in Afghanistan believe that it was pushed by the Americans and the Pakistanis.
The senior administration official avoided getting into a discussion over what role did the US and Pakistan play in arranging the ceasefire. Ms Curtis said that an important component to catalysing a peace process in Afghanistan was ensuring that Pakistan also stayed engaged.
“We have to be clear that Pakistan’s interests are not served by a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan,” she said in her keynote address at a Washington think-tank, the US Institute of Peace. “Pakistan has a fundamental responsibility to address the use of its territory by these malign actors.”
Explaining the new US approach towards Pakistan, Ms Curtis said: “One can acknowledge Pakistan’s complex security calculus without absolving it of its responsibility to do something of these malign actors.”
Responding to the Taliban position that they would hold direct talks with the US, not with the Afghan government, she said: “The US is ready to participate in the discussion, but we cannot serve as a substitute for the Afghan government and the Afghan people.”
Pakistan was once a key ally in the US-led war against terror but relations between the two countries began to strain after Washington raided Osama bin Laden’s den in Abbottabad in 2011, without informing Islamabad.
The Trump administration’s new South Asia strategy, which blames Pakistan for continued fighting in Afghanistan, further strained the relations. And in January this year, the US suspended its security assistance to Pakistan and later the two countries also imposed travel restrictions on each other’s diplomats.
That’s why Thursday’s telephone calls — from Mr Pence to the caretaker prime minister and from Mr Pompeo to the Pakistan army chief — were seen in both Washington and Islamabad as the first major move towards improving the strained relations.
“The United States appears to be easing public pressure on Pakistan in a bid to encourage the country to help promote peace and reconciliation with the Taliban to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan,” observed the official Voice of America radio.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2018