WASHINGTON: A US senator, Chris Van Hollen, has reminded American lawmakers that Pakistan released three top Taliban leaders on the Trump administration’s request to push forward the Afghan peace process.

The senator — a Maryland Democrat who was born in Karachi — argued at the first Senate hearing on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan that it’s in Pakistan’s interest to “prevent chaos and civil war” in its neighborhood.

At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, some Republican lawmakers blamed the Biden administration for the chaos — and the Taliban takeover — that followed the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last month. Others — both Republicans and Democrats — also targeted Pakistan for its alleged support to the Taliban during the 20-year war.

Responding to these allegations, Senator Van Hollen engaged in a dialogue with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was the main witness.

“Is it not the fact that the Trump administration asked the Pakistani government to release three top Taliban commanders as part of that process?” he asked. “That’s correct,” Blinken replied. Van Hollen: “And one of them is now number two in the Taliban government, Baradar, right?” Blinken: “That’s correct.”

Van Hollen: “He is the person everybody saw in those photos in Kabul, right?” Mr Blinken: “That’s correct.”

Van Hollen: “And there was another senior commander, and they began the discussions in Doha.” Blinken: “That’s right.” Van Hollen: “They (US negotiators) did not include the Afghan government, did they?” Blinken: “That’s right, correct.”

Van Hollen: “And they in fact essentially ordered, pressured, the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, right?”

Blinken: “That’s correct.”

Van Hollen: “Many of those fighters are involved in the attack on Kabul today, right?” Blinken: “Yes.”

Van Hollen: “Now, let’s see what the negotiation was: the US will leave by a certain date in May this year, right?” Blinken: “Correct.”

Van Hollen: “You can’t attack American forces, but you can attack the Afghan forces with impunity, right?” Blinken: “That’s correct.”

Van Hollen: “And so, we pick a date. We say to the Taliban you can attack Taliban forces and then we say, now let’s negotiate the future of Afghanistan. Isn’t the way it was set up when you walked in?” Blinken: “That’s essentially, yes.”

Van Hollen: “There is a saying in Afghanistan, partners have watches, we have the time. So, the Trump administration, with this negotiation, set it up perfectly for the Taliban. Green light to attack the Afghan forces. No discussions going forward.” Blinken: “I believe that’s accurate.”

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2021

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