WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday demanded an immediate reduction in violence in Afghanistan but said he still had confidence that Taliban insurgents were committed to a landmark agreement to end the war.
Just days after Pompeo joined the signing of a deal with the Taliban in Qatar, the militants have resumed attacks on Afghan government forces, leading US forces to carry out an air strike on Wednesday.
But the United States is still hoping that the Taliban will open talks with the Afghan government — set under the accord to begin next week — and the top US negotiator flew to Kabul in hopes of pushing through an accompanying massive prisoner swap.
“The upsurge in violence in parts of Afghanistan over the last couple days is unacceptable,” Pompeo told a news conference in Washington. “Violence must be reduced immediately for the peace process to move forward.”
Under Saturday’s deal with the Taliban, the United States will start to pull out troops with a goal of a complete withdrawal in 14 months, ending the longest-ever US war.
US officials have sought to play down the violence, describing the Taliban as more of a ragtag rebel force than an organised military that can control all of its members.
“We have seen the senior Taliban leadership working diligently to reduce violence from previous levels,” Pompeo said. “So we still have confidence the Taliban leadership is working to deliver on its commitments. We’re working to deliver on ours.”
According to the Afghan interior ministry, the Taliban had carried out 30 attacks over a 24-hour period that resulted in the deaths of four civilians and 11 Afghan soldiers.
The head of Nato, the Western alliance that leads the 16,000-strong mission in Afghanistan, said that the path to peace will be “long and hard”. “It is a very difficult situation and Taliban must honor their commitment.
We need to see reduction in violence,” Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview in Zagreb. “We can only deliver our side of the deal if Taliban deliver their side of the deal.”
At the United Nations, where Pompeo will travel on Friday, diplomats said that the United States has opened discussions on a Security Council resolution that would bring international weight to the Feb 29 deal.
The resolution — an unusual move for an agreement with a guerrilla force — would call on all countries in the region to “provide their full support” to backing the deal.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US diplomat who negotiated with the Taliban for more than a year, returned to Kabul after fresh talks with Mullah Baradar and said the United States was committed to a “significant” prisoner release.
Pompeo said in Washington: “All the parties understand that it’s time for prisoner exchanges to take place.”
The Trump administration has distanced itself from the Kabul government, Washington’s ally for two decades, by pressing on corruption and pointedly declining to congratulate Ghani on his re-election, which was disputed by his rival.
In a new veiled swipe at the government, Pompeo urged Afghans not to care only on “the narrow interest that you happen to represent.” “What we have urged all the parties to do is stop posturing. It’s time to move forward,” Pompeo said.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2020