US to engage with Taliban when it’s in America’s interest

Published September 11, 2021
In this file photo, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price speaks during a news briefing. — Reuters/File
In this file photo, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price speaks during a news briefing. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: The United States would engage with the Taliban when it’s in America’s interest to do so, although it’s not yet ready to recognise the Taliban government.

At a Thursday afternoon’s news briefing, State Department spokesperson Ned Price also said that Pakistan shared concerns of the international community on Afghanistan and wanted to protect the gains of the last 20 years.

“There’s a distinction … between broad issues like recognition and legitimacy and practical engagement,” said Mr Price while explaining how the Biden administration plans to engage with the Taliban.

State Dept says Pakistan working to protect gains of last 20 years

“I think you’ve heard from us, you’ve heard from other governments, that when it is in our interest to engage the Taliban on the basis of our national self-interest, we will do that,” he said, adding that at the ministerial meeting “we heard a similar sentiment from other countries involved as well”.

Asked to comment on Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, Mr Price said Islamabad conveyed its position on Afghanistan at a recent ministerial meeting co-hosted by the US and Germany.

“Pakistan was engaged in the ministerial meeting, and we heard from the Pakistanis very similar sentiment to what we heard from other countries that participated,” he said. “There was widespread agreement, including from our Pakistani partners, that the gains of the last 20 years should not be squandered.”

US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas co-hosted the ministerial meeting on Afghanistan on Wednesday. Both Pakistan and India participated in the meeting along with a dozen other countries and international groups, like the European Union, Nato and the United Nations.

Secretary Blinken used his speech to urge unity in mitigating a potential humanitarian crisis and on holding the Taliban accountable on counterterrorism, safe passage for foreign and Afghan citizens and on forming an inclusive government that respects basic rights.

Secretary Blinken said that the United States would continue to “use economic, diplomatic, and political tools to support the rights of the Afghan people, especially women and girls, and to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for terrorism”.

The participants, particularly Afghanistan’s neighbours, agreed to do everything “we can, to prevent a deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan”, Mr Price said.

“And this is especially acutely held and felt by those countries bordering Afghanistan, knowing that the humanitarian implications could be acute for those countries in the region,” he added.

“That’s why the US was reviewing its bilateral assistance to the government of Afghanistan and has continued to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan,” Mr Price said.

Even in recent months, he said, the US has provided hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan. In June, the US provided over $250 million to Afghans, which doubled to $500 million in July. Some of this is intended for internally displaced persons inside Afghanistan.

“It’s an enduring commitment, felt dearly not only by the United States but by countries in the region and by countries well beyond,” Mr Price said.

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2021

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