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WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has said that the United States wants “every responsible” nation to support peace efforts in the subcontinent and in Afghanistan.

The remarks, made at a joint news briefing with Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at the Pentagon on Monday evening, came hours after the White House confirmed that President Donald Trump had written a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking “Pakistan’s full support” for the Afghan peace process and for his special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s trip to the region.

“We are looking for every responsible nation to support peace in the subcontinent, and across this war in Afghanistan,” said Mattis when reminded of Trump’s decision to reach out to Pakistan for a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict.

“It is approaching 40 years; 40 years is enough,” he said, recalling that the Afghan war started in 1979, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and has continued unabated since then.

“It’s time for everyone to get onboard, support the United Nations, support Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi, support [Afghan] President [Ashraf] Ghani and all those who are trying to maintain peace and make for a better world here,” he added.

Asked if the US Defence Department now had more confidence in Pakistan’s willingness to help with the peace process, Mattis said: “We are on that track, and it’s diplomatically-led, as it should be, and we’ll do our best to protect the Afghan people. That’s a diplomatic effort to end the war.”

In earlier remarks at a recent debate on the US defence strategy, Mattis had said that the key points of the new US strategy for Afghanistan were the same as those explained by Hillary Clinton when she was the secretary of state.

Clinton laid out three conditions to the Taliban: break with Al Qaeda that attacked the United States and other countries, quit killing Afghan people and live by the constitution, Mattis said.

“Those are the three starting points for how we reconcile and bring this war to an end.”

Mattis also said that the Trump administration was focused on ending the war with regional and UN support. “It’s going to take regional help. It’s going to take the UN’s help,” he said.

Last week, Trump also stressed the need for seeking a peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict while maintaining the US military presence in Afghanistan, now into its 18th year.

About 16,000 US troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan in training and counterterrorism roles.

Mattis said the US was under no pressure to withdraw its troops now or end its pursuit for a solution that would give Taliban rebels a role in the next setup in Kabul without allowing them to topple the Afghan government.

The US goal in Afghanistan, he said, “is to reconcile” and that’s why it had made Ambassador Khalilzad in charge of the reconciliation effort.

“And we’re going to do our level best to drive this to a political resolution in order to end it.”

There’s a growing discontent in the United States against this unending war in Afghanistan. Four US service members have been killed in the country in the last week and 13 since the start of the year.

More than 2,400 US military personnel have died since October 2001, when US forces entered Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2018

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