WASHINGTON: The US State Department called on Kabul’s Taliban rulers on Monday to prevent terrorist activities originating from Afghan soil, while also urging both Afghanistan and Pakistan to prioritise the protection of civilian lives during security operations.

“We have seen reports that Pakistan carried out airstrikes in Afghanistan in response to the attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, on Saturday at a military post,” said the department’s Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel when asked at a news briefing to comment on these developments.

“We deeply regret the loss of life and injuries sustained during the attack in Pakistan and the loss of civilian lives during the strike in Afghanistan.”

The US official, however, also sent a clear message to Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers. “We urge the Taliban to ensure that terrorist attacks are not launched from Afghan soil.”

And then he urged Pakistan “to exercise restraint and ensure civilians are not harmed in their counterterrorism efforts”.

The State Department official also urged “both sides to address their differences” while underlining the need for Afghanistan to curb terrorism.

“We remain committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists who wish to harm the United States or our partners or allies,” he said.

When a journalist interpreted his statement as suggesting that the United States did not support Pakistan’s stance on this issue, Patel said: “Any loss of civilian life is troubling and heartbreaking to us, so we want to make sure that when some of these operations are being conducted, every step possible is taken to ensure it is the perpetrators that are being held to account and not civilians who are being impacted.”

Emphasising Pakistan’s position as a close US ally, he said that Washington maintains “regular communication” with Pakistani leaders to “discuss Afghanistan in detail including through our counterterrorism dialogue and other bilateral consultations”.

Responding to a question about US Ambassador Donald Blome’s recent meetings with Pakistani leaders, he said: “Amb Blome on March 15 did meet with PM Sharif to discuss a broad range of bilateral issues, partnering with the government of Pakistan on regional security, US support for continued economic reforms with and through the IMF.”

He said that trade and investment, education, climate change, and other private sector-led economic growth issues were also discussed in this meeting. “And we continue to engage with our Pakistani partners, they discuss a number of range of other issues as well,” he added.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2024

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