WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has assured Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that Washington remains committed to achieving a lasting peace in Afghanistan, the US State Department said on Wednesday.
President Ghani, however, tweeted that Secretary Pompeo “underscored the central importance of ensuring the centrality of the Afghan government in the peace process”. The top US diplomat also signalled support for holding Afghan presidential elections in July, he added.
Media reports from Kabul said that Ghani also sought to “reassert his authority” as Washington accelerates its negotiations with the Taliban and Moscow holds separate talks without the Afghan government.
A statement by the State Department Spokesperson’s office said Secretary Pompeo underscored US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad’s role in facilitating an inclusive peace process.
The statement did not say why Pompeo felt the need to underscore Khalilzad’s position but recent media reports have suggested that Kabul is not happy with the envoy’s continued engagement with the Taliban without involving the Afghan government. Khalilzad has already held three rounds of talks with the Taliban and is planning yet another round later this month.
Secretary Pompeo also emphasised “the importance of an intra-Afghan dialogue and the role of a ceasefire in ending the violence”, the State Department said.
Washington insists that both factors were necessary for “creating the conditions for the Afghan government, other Afghan leaders and the Taliban to sit together and negotiate a political settlement”.
The Taliban refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government and have not yet responded to the US demand for a ceasefire before Washington starts withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
“Finally, the Secretary emphasised the important gains made by the Afghan people since 2001 and US desire for a long-term partnership with Afghanistan,” the State Department added.
Secretary Pompeo “stressed that our military partnership is unwavering and will remain until a lasting and inclusive peace is achieved”, President Ghani tweeted. “We both agreed that words, rumours, and speculations cannot replace actions and that our partnership and resolve will remain strong in the pursuit of peace,” the Afghan leader added.
Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2019