WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Afghanistan on a surprise visit on Monday, stressing the need for neighbouring countries to support Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s effort to start peace talks with the Taliban, according to a transcript released in Washington.
Pompeo, who was greeted by Chief of Staff Abdul Salam Rahimi when he arrived at Gul Khanna presidential palace in Kabul for a meeting with Ghani, said the US not only supported the proposed talks but was also willing to participate.
But he clarified that the peace process would be Afghan-led and the US would only participate to help resolve differences and encourage Afghanistan’s neighbours to support the process as well.
“We’re counting on all the actors in the region to be supportive. The Pakistanis, too, need to understand that we need to have a set of elections [in Afghanistan] that do not have violence,” he said. “We’re counting on all the actors in the region to support this process and make sure the Afghan people can have their voices heard during these elections,” he added.
“We have seen good signs from lots of regional partners,” he said, repeating what his senior aide, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells, earlier said in Islamabad last week.
Wells, who heads the bureau for South and Central Asian affairs at the US State Department, said at a news briefing in Washington this week, “It’s critical that Pakistan and Afghanistan have improved relations in order to reinforce what has to be a unified effort to achieve reconciliation in the region. And we would like to see those steps extended to more vigorous counterterrorism effort on behalf of the Pakistani government.”
In Kabul, Ghani said at a joint news conference with Pompeo that all sides involved in the effort to promote the peace talks need to move with caution. “If we think only in one day a 40-year-crisis can be ended we are being unrealistic,” he said.
Pompeo’s visit to Kabul, which followed a tour of Asian countries, was his first to Afghanistan since he became secretary of state in April.
Earlier this month, the US Department of Defence informed in a report to Congress that it, too, was making efforts to persuade Afghanistan’s neighbours to support the proposed peace talks with the Taliban.
The Pentagon report said it was bringing combined regional pressure on Pakistan to limit its alleged support to proxy terrorist and militant groups.
The 119-page report underlines US efforts to end its longest war with a combination of military and diplomatic efforts and recognises the key role that Pakistan can play in achieving this target.
“The Taliban continues to receive external support from regional actors, including Pakistan, Iran and Russia,” the report claimed.
“The United States and Afghanistan, and our allies and partners, must work tirelessly and together to end external support of the insurgency,” it said.
The US would “continue to welcome any partner who supports a Kabul-led peace process without further destabilising Afghanistan”, it added.
The report also said that Trump’s South Asia strategy “focused on pressuring Pakistan to limit support and safe havens for proxy terrorist and militant groups and to play a constructive role in facilitating Afghan reconciliation”.
Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2018