Pakistan, US, China and Russia seek end to cross-border attacks from Afghanistan

Published May 1, 2021
An Afghan security officer keeps watch at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan. — Reuters/File
An Afghan security officer keeps watch at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan. — Reuters/File

Pakistan has joined the United States, China and Russia in urging the Afghan government and the Taliban to ensure that Afghan soil is not used to threaten the security of any other country.

The four nations — known as the Extended Troika on Peaceful Settlement in Afghanistan — are also urging the Afghan government to engage openly with their Taliban counterparts. They also want the UN Security Council (UNSC) to review the designations of Taliban individuals and entities.

“We call on all Afghans including the government of the Islamic Republic and the Taliban to ensure that terrorist groups and individuals do not use Afghan soil to threaten the security of any other country,” they said in a joint statement issued in Washington.

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a UN-designated terrorist group, has extensively used Afghan soil for launching attacks into Pakistan, including the 2014 Peshawar Army Public School massacre. TTP militants, who came from Afghanistan, killed 150 people, including 134 students, in the attack. Pakistan has long urged Afghanistan to stop such cross-border attacks.

In the joint statement, the Troika urged “the government of the Islamic Republic and the High Council for National Reconciliation to engage openly with their Taliban counterparts regarding a negotiated settlement”, adding that “we do not support the establishment in Afghanistan of any government imposed by force.”

The Troika also tried to create space for Taliban leaders to join the Afghan government by asking the United Nations to reconsider their designation as terrorists.

“We support a review of the status of designations of Taliban individuals and entities on the UN 1988 sanctions,” they said in the statement, adding that practical measures to reduce violence and sustained efforts to advance intra-Afghan negotiations by the Taliban “will positively affect this review process”.

The statement followed an April 30 meeting in Doha, Qatar, to discuss ways to support intra-Afghan negotiations and help the parties reach a negotiated settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

The extended “Troika” also met the Afghan government and Taliban representatives in Doha and reviewed the outcomes of previous “Troika” meetings with them.

The participants acknowledged the widespread demand of the Afghan people for lasting and just peace and an end to the war and reiterated that there is no military solution in Afghanistan and a negotiated political settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process was the only way forward for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.

They took note of the April 14 announcement by the United States and Nato that US/Nato forces will begin a responsible withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, which will conclude by September 11, 2021.

They reiterated that the withdrawal of foreign troops should ensure a steady transition of the situation in Afghanistan and stressed that, during the withdrawal period, the peace process should not be disrupted, no fights or turbulence should occur in Afghanistan, and the safety of international troops should be ensured.

They urged the Taliban to fulfill its counterterrorism commitments, including preventing terrorist groups and individuals from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of any other country. The Taliban were also asked not to host these groups and prevent them from recruiting, training, and fundraising.

The Troika also said that they “expect the Afghan government to continue counterterrorism cooperation with the international community.”

They reiterated the need for all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to reduce the level of violence in the country and for the Taliban not to pursue a Spring offensive.

“We condemn in the strongest terms any attacks deliberately targeting civilians in Afghanistan and call on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law in all circumstances, including those related to protection of civilians,” the statement added.

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The troika reminded all Afghan factions that diplomatic personnel and property shall remain “inviolable, and the perpetrators of any attack or threat on foreign diplomatic personnel and properties in Kabul will be held accountable”.

The troika noted Turkey’s preparations to host a conference of senior leaders of both Afghan parties to accelerate the intra-Afghan negotiations and welcomed the United Nations and Qatar’s roles as co-conveners of this dialogue.

The troika urged the negotiating parties to make progress towards an inclusive political settlement and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.

They also welcomed an expanded role for the United Nations in contributing to the Afghan peace and reconciliation process, including by leveraging its considerable experience and expertise in supporting other peace processes.

“We strongly advocate a durable and just political resolution that will result in the formation of an independent, sovereign, unified, peaceful, democratic, neutral and self-sufficient Afghanistan,” the troika said in the joint statement.

The new Afghanistan should be “free of terrorism and an illicit drug industry, which contributes to a safe environment for the voluntary, expeditious and sustainable return of Afghan refugees through a well-resourced plan; stability; and global security,” they added.

The Troika reaffirmed that any peace agreement must include protections for the rights of all Afghans, including women, men, children, victims of war, and minorities, and should respond to the strong desire of all Afghans for economic, social and political development including the rule of law.

Read | As foreign troops leave Afghanistan, US lawmakers fear dark future for women

Meanwhile, the movers of a bipartisan bill in the US Senate also emphasised the need for a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan in another joint statement issued in Washington.

The bill was moved in the US Senate on Friday and it seeks to establish duty-free export zones along the Pak-Afghan border. The movers include Senators Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, Senator Todd Young, an Indian Republican, and Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat.

The proposed trade pockets — known as Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) — would allow duty-free export of “textile and apparel goods” to the United States from the region.

The senators argued that as the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, “it is imperative that we use all the tools at our disposal to facilitate peaceful reconciliation and a durable political settlement between all parties.”

“The legislation would serve as a vital tool in the administration’s efforts (for peace), and I will work to get it passed,” Senator Van Hollen said in a separate statement.

The ROZs will “encourage businesses in Afghanistan and Pakistan to trade with the United States, creating economic benefits that endure well into the future,” said Senator Young.

Senator Cantwell said the ROZs will provide “alternatives to extremism and narco-trafficking” and will help those “Afghans and Pakistan[is] who are resorting to any means to support their families.”

According to the bill:

  • Fostering trade with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region will help bolster economic development and improve the livelihoods of local populations.
  • Such efforts further US diplomatic objectives in the region by contributing to political stability and addressing the root causes of violent extremism.
  • Expanding trade with Pakistan will strengthen ties with a key strategic partner and enhance economic development in a region important to US interests.

Eligibility Criteria

For an area to be designated as an ROZ, Pakistan and Afghanistan must fulfill certain conditions:

  • Economic reforms: market-based economy; anti-corruption measures; eliminating barriers to US trade and investment; and increasing availability of healthcare and educational opportunities.
  • National security: no activities that harm US national security interests or support for international terrorism.
  • Human and labour rights: elimination of human rights abuses and protection of core labour standards.

The US president will determine which products, from a specified list of textile and apparel goods, will be eligible for duty-free treatment. These products represent a range of goods commonly imported to the US from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

According to the bill, the president must determine that Pakistan and Afghanistan have adopted laws to prevent unlawful transshipment and allow US Customs and Border Protection access to investigate allegations of unlawful transshipment. Violating transshipment rules will result in a five-year denial of duty-free shipment for articles of the violator.

The bill lays out a programme and reporting requirements for technical assistance and capacity building, focusing on providing labour protections to workers in ROZs. It also requires Pakistan and Afghanistan to designate a labour official to monitor compliance and labour standards of registered textile firms.

According to the bill, the president has the authority to withdraw, suspend, or limit the application of the ROZs if conditions on the ground do not support US national interests.

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