WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo says that the United States is committed to two main objectives in Afghanistan — a political solution to the Afghan conflict and preventing future terrorist attacks.
In a wide-ranging interview to a congressional news outlet, The Hill, Secretary Pompeo also emphasised the need for a broad coalition of non-Taliban Afghans to strengthen the Afghan peace process.
Asked how would America define victory in Afghanistan, the chief US diplomat listed these two “necessary conditions” that Washington was trying to achieve there.
“What is winning? Are we winning in Afghanistan?” asked the interviewer, The Hill’s editor-in-chief Bob Cusack.
“We are working to achieve a reconciliation so that this conflict now coming on two decades can be resolved. We can take down the violence level, we can get a political outcome. That’s a necessary condition,” Mr Pompeo responded.
“The second necessary condition is that we continue to be able to perform our counter-terror operations, the ones we were speaking about before.”
Although Mr Pompeo did not define victory, he did highlight US efforts to promote the Afghan peace process.
“We’re working with partners and allies in the region, and we’re working with people that we have not worked within an awfully long time,” he said, adding that US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was already in the region trying to resume the US-Taliban talks.
Mr Khalilzad, who was in Islamabad on Monday, tweeted on Tuesday that the US was pursuing peace in Afghanistan so that “vital democratic values & institutions like free press grow only stronger.”
In an interview to Afghanistan’s Tolo news agency on Sunday, Mr Khalilzad said that an Afghan peace deal hinged on Taliban accepting a ceasefire.
His boss, Secretary Pompeo, however, said that the participation of non-Taliban Afghans was also necessary for ending the Afghan war.
Taliban have held six rounds of direct talks with a US team, headed by Mr Khalilzad, but are refusing to talk to the Afghan government.
Besides, intra-Afghan dialogue, Secretary Pompeo also underlined the need for combating those terrorist groups that are still operating in Afghanistan.
“ISIS in particular — they’re in Afghanistan too, but we still have Al Qaeda and other Sunni terror operations in Afghanistan as well to make sure that we can continue to prevent an attack on the homeland from Afghanistan,” he said.
“We need a broad coalition of non-Taliban Afghans to come together.
We need President (Ashraf) Ghani to be successful so that we can ultimately get that political resolution,” he said.
This new emphasis on an intra-Afghan coalition reflects a hardening of attitude in Washington where policy makers want to ensure that the insurgents do not see their eagerness for peace as a sign of weakness.
“It will ultimately be up to the Afghan people to determine if this reconciliation can be successful,” Secretary Pompeo said.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2019