WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has told Congress that Washington wants Pakistan not to offer ‘any legitimacy’ to Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers until they fulfil their promises to fight terrorism and protect human rights.

Pakistan’s US Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan, however, assured the international community that Islamabad too is monitoring the ability of the Taliban government to deliver on those promises before extending recognition to it.

Secretary Blinken made those remarks at the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday during his first hearing on Afghanistan since the withdrawal of the US forces while Ambassador Khan offered the assurance in an interview to The Washington Diplomat newspaper.

“And so going forward, what we are looking at, what we have to look at, is an insistence that every country, to include Pakistan, make good on the expectations that the international community has of what is required of a Taliban like government if it is to receive any legitimacy of any kind or any support going forward,” Secretary Blinken said.

New Afghan rulers asked to uphold fundamental rights, says Blinken

The requirements, he said, included ensuring freedom of travel, making good on its commitments on not allowing Afghanistan to be used as a haven for outwardly directed terrorism, upholding the basic rights of Afghan people, including women and girls and minorities, allowing humanitarian assistance and having a more representative government.

“And so, Pakistan needs to line up with a broad majority of the international community in working towards those ends and in upholding those expectations,” he added.

In an interview to The Washington Diplomat, Ambassador Khan said that Pakistan had “laid out our expectations” to the Taliban, “which is that we want the rights of everyone to be respected.”

Asked under what conditions would Pakistan recognise the Taliban, he said: “We want that Afghan territory not be used against any other country, including Pakistan. We want human rights and women’s rights to be preserved.”

He said that these were the conditions that the Taliban had committed themselves to, “whether they actually abide by those is their call.”

Two Democratic lawmakers — Bill Keating and Joaquin Castro — brought up Pakistan at the congressional hearing. Mr Keating asked if the administration was reviewing the relationship with Pakistan and was ready to revoke its status as one of 17 Major Non-Nato Allies (MNNAs).

Congressman Castro first accused Pakistan of having a long-term relationship with the Taliban and then asked: “Is it time for the United States to reassess its relationship with Pakistan and reassess its status as a major non-Nato ally?”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken replied: “For the reasons you’ve cited as well as others, this is one of the things that we’re going to be looking in the days and weeks ahead: the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years but also the role that we would want to see it play in the coming years, and what it will take for it to do that.”

Congressman Keating claimed that it’s Pakistan that “helped in branding the name Taliban and maintained strong ties with the Haqqani network. He claimed that when the Taliban took over Kabul in August, Pakistanis celebrated this by saying that “Afghanistan has broken the shackles of slavery.”

“You are very right to point out the role that Pakistan has played throughout the past 20 years and even before,” said Secretary Blinken while responding to the congressman. “It is the one that has involved hedging its bets constantly about the future of Afghanistan.”

Pakistan’s main concern in Afghanistan, he said, was countering India’s influence. “It’s focused, of course as well, on India and the role that India is playing in Afghanistan. And it looks at it from that prism as well,” he said.

“All of these things, I think, have influenced what it (Pakistan) has done. On many occasions, detrimental to our interests. On other occasions in support of those interests.”

In his interview to The Diplomat, Ambassador Khan said Pakistan believed that “instead of indulging in give-and-take on these issues, right now what’s really important is to avert a humanitarian crisis” in Afghanistan.

This was not the time to “let things fall apart”, because there “clearly is a new reality” in Afghanistan, a government under the Taliban, he said. “The international community has to make a choice: between engaging — and that doesn’t necessarily mean recognition — and abandonment.”

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2021

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