WASHINGTON: The US State Department has urged Pakistan to play a critical role in bringing an inclusive government in Kabul as a lawmaker warned that the Unit­ed States could re-enter Afghanistan if the situation worsened.

The statements follow assurances from Pakistan’s US and UN envoys that Islamabad, too, wants an inclusive government in Kabul and is willing to work with the international community for achieving this objective.

“We have been in regular touch with the Pakistani leadership and have discussed Afghanistan in detail,” a State Department spokesperson told Dawn when asked to comment on Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has frequently and publicly advocated an inclusive government with broad support in Afghanistan and we look to Pakistan to play a critical role in enabling that outcome,” the official added.

On Tuesday, the Taliban announced an interim government dominated by the group’s old guard, with no women included.

The new government does not reflect the inclusivity that Washington desires. Hours before the announcement, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham suggested the US would reinvade Afghanistan if the Taliban allowed militants to make the country their home once again.

“The Taliban are not reformed, they are not new, … most importantly, they’re going to give safe haven to Al Qaeda, who have ambitions to drive us out of the Mideast writ large and attack us because of our way of life,” Senator Graham said. “We will be going back into Afghanistan as we went back into Iraq and Syria.”

Asked: if the US could send back its troops in the foreseeable future, he said: “We’ll have to. We’ll have to. Because the threat will be so large ... It will be a cauldron for radical Islamic behaviour.”

The US invaded Iraq in 2003, withdrew its forces in 2011 but sent them back three years later. Nearly 2,500 American troops are still there. No US official, however, has spoken about the need to resend US troops to Afghanistan.

While responding to Dawn’s query, the State Department spokesperson noted that the entire international community had a stake in ensuring that the Taliban lived up to their public commitments and obligations.

“It’s critical that the members of the international community with the most influence in Afghanistan use all the means at their disposal to ensure that Afghanistan lives up to its obligations under the UN Charter,” the official added. US officials have often said that they believe Pakistan has enough leverage in Afghanistan to influence critical developments and should do so.

In an opinion piece in The Washington Times, Pakistan’s US ambassador Asad Majeed Khan argued that “Pakistan and the United States retain the same interests in Afghanistan — the formation of an inclusive government that reflects Afghanistan’s ethnic and sectarian diversity.”

Such a government, he said, should also “preserve the country’s gains in advancing human rights and women’s access to education”.

In an interview with another US media outlet, Pakistan’s UN envoy Munir Akram indicated that while Islamabad had some influence in Afghanistan, it could not force the Taliban to do what they did not want to. “We hope Afghan leaders will listen to a sincere friend in trying to form an inclusive government” where all the ethnic groups and minorities, including Tajiks, Hazaras and Shias were represented.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2021

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