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KABUL: The United States has said the Taliban’s failure to engage in talks to end Afghanistan’s nearly 17-year conflict is “unacceptable” and called on Pakistan to exert more pressure on the militants.

US envoy Alice Wells made the remarks during a visit to Kabul on Saturday, two weeks after an unprecedented ceasefire triggered spontaneous street celebrations involving Taliban fighters and security forces.

“I think it [the ceasefire reaction] creates this impulse for everyone to renew their efforts to find a negotiated political solution,” Ms Wells, the principal deputy assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, told reporters in remarks embargoed until Sunday.

Alice Wells says Islamabad should do more to bring militants to negotiating table

“Increasingly I think it’s becoming simply unacceptable for the Taliban not to negotiate.” The Taliban have so far ignored President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of peace negotiations. Instead, they have insisted on direct talks with the United States, which Washington has repeatedly refused.

One of the Taliban’s key demands for engaging in talks is the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

Ms Wells said that since the Afghan government and United States were willing to start talking without preconditions, the onus was now on the Taliban to respond. “Right now it’s the Taliban leaders... who aren’t residing in Afghanistan, who are the obstacle to a negotiated political settlement,” she said.

Ms Wells, who is due to hold talks in Pakistan on Monday, said Islamabad needed to do more to pressurise the Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table.

“Pakistan has an important role to play... but we have not yet seen that sustained and decisive action on the part of Islamabad,” she said. “It’s going to be very hard for us to achieve our objectives... if Pakistan isn’t working with us.” — AFP

President Ghani has said that Afghanistan and Pakistan have forged a unique deal to root out terrorism from their region, Anwar Iqbal in Washington adds.

Mr Ghani’s statement — made at a Saturday afternoon event in Kabul — came a day after the Afghan government formally ended the Eid ceasefire, allowing Afghan forces to resume fighting after more than two weeks of unprecedented peace.

“It has been agreed on paper for the first time. The Afghanistan-Pakistan negotiations framework is now on paper. Now, serious actions are required,” Mr Ghani said.

Afghanistan’s Tolo news agency reported that the Afghan president also talked about “some recent improvements” in counter-terrorism cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan but did not explain what those improvements were.

Mr Ghani insisted that “the issue of Taliban should be solved in our relations with Pakistan,” said the Tolo report. “Some things have been done in this respect and some things are still needed to be done,” he added.

The report — reproduced by some US media outlets — also included a quote from Zahid Nasrullah, Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, pointing out that Pakistan had strongly supported the Eid ceasefire.

“Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain was in China when he announced that Pakistan is strongly supporting the ceasefire. Pakistan knows its role well in peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and we will fulfil our role very well,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2018