WASHINGTON: The United States will need Pakistan’s “continued support and effort” to implement the Afghan peace deal signed in Qatar on Saturday, US officials said.

Briefing journalists in Washington on how this agreement would be implemented, two senior administration officials said most governments in the world, including Iran, had the same objectives in Afghanistan and “nobody wants to see the return of the Taliban Islamic Emirate”.

Asked if Pakistan “will have a seat at the table” in the post-agreement negotiations for shaping a future set-up in Afghanistan and for maintaining peace in the war-ravaged country, one of the officials said: “No one thinks it’s (the agreement) perfect, and we’re going to need continued support and effort by Pakistan to help move forward on implementation of the agreement.”

The US official pointed out that Pakistan has been an important partner in the effort to reach an agreement with the Taliban and “given Pakistan’s history in this conflict, which is well known to everybody. They’re an important player”. The official acknowledged that having a “productive working relationship with the government of Pakistan” during the Afghan peace process “has been useful”.

He recalled that when US special representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the deal with the Taliban had started this process, Pakistan cooperated by releasing Mullah Baradar, who then led the Taliban negotiating team.

The US official noted that Mullah Baradar was Mullah Omar’s named successor and was playing an important role in the process.

“Most recently they (Pakistanis) have been helpful in supporting our effort to press for the reduction in violence that we’ve achieved this past week,” said the official while highlighting Pakistan’s role in the seven-day reduction in violence period that allowed the United States to sign the deal.

“But nothing is easy between those two countries,” warned the official in a reference to “a long and difficult history” of hostilities between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Asked if the US also expects Iran to support the Afghan peace process, one of the officials said: “Most governments in the world, even those we don’t get along with very well, have the same objectives in Afghanistan. Nobody wants to see the return of the Taliban Islamic Emirate. Nobody wants to see Afghanistan be a base for terrorists to thrive and attack others in the region.”

Similarly, the official added, “Nobody wants to see a vacuum, either a security or a political vacuum that creates more instability, more refugees, more vulnerabilities. Most want to see the gains of the past 18, 19 years preserved.”

The official said that most governments would like to see Afghanistan become a productive country, which could take care of its own people, was not so reliant on international assistance and played a stable role in the difficult neighbourhood.

Based on those “core common interests” that he said applied to Iran as well the US had been able to mobilise several groups to support the Afghan peace process.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2020