Ending Afghan war US priority in South Asia, says State Dept

Updated June 18, 2019

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The top US priority in South Asia is to end the war in Afghanistan through a sustainable political settlement, the US State Department informed Congress in a policy paper. — AFP/File
The top US priority in South Asia is to end the war in Afghanistan through a sustainable political settlement, the US State Department informed Congress in a policy paper. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: The top US priority in South Asia is to end the war in Afghanistan through a sustainable political settlement, the US State Department informed Congress in a policy paper, sent to a foreign affairs panel of the House of Representatives this week, says that any political settlement must also ensure Afghanistan “never again serves as a haven for terrorist attacks against the United States or our interests.”

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, a US diplomat of Afghan origin who is negotiating a political settlement with the Taliban, says that the US-backed peace plan could be “a springboard for regional connectivity, development, and economic integration.”

The State Department, however, assures Afghans that an end to the war will not end the US engagement with Afghanistan. “We are working with the Afghan government to define the parameters of a sustainable, long-term partnership,” says the policy paper, which also indicates a shift from military to civilian assistance.

“Civilian assistance will continue to play an important role,” the paper adds.

In recent discussions in Kabul, the State Department and the Afghan government agreed to focus US assistance on America’s highest priorities: “furthering the peace process, ensuring Afghanistan does not serve as a terrorist safe haven, promoting Afghan self-reliance, and maintaining Afghan stability.”

The State Department’s 2020 budget seeks resources that will help Afghanistan maintain and expand the gains it has made over the last 18 years, including the strides made by Afghan women and girls.

Earlier this week, the World Bank held a donors meeting in Kabul on “what donors can do to arrive at and cement a peace agreement that allows for increasing economic well being and prosperity.”

Ambassador Khalilzad, who also attended the meeting, emphasizes the need for promoting “self-reliance by developing internal resources, attracting investments, and reducing security costs,” he writes in a tweet, which also underlines the need for regional connectivity.

The State Department’s budget requests for Afghanistan focus on a transition to a smaller portfolio and to have flexibility to respond to a political settlement.

The departments recalls that at last year’s Geneva Conference on Afghanistan, the United States urged donors to plan for post-settlement Afghanistan. At the conference, the European Union announced a $535 million package for Afghanistan that focuses on the support needed to implement and sustain a peace agreement.

Since the conference, the World Bank has been working with major donors and regional partners to develop a post- settlement economic action plan. The plan will help Afghanistan navigate what could be a difficult economic period after a political settlement and hopefully speed the country’s recovery.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2019