US does not need Pakistan to engage with Afghan Taliban

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WASHINGTON: The United States does not need Pakistan or any other country to facilitate its engagement with the Afghan Taliban, says US Special Represe­ntative for Afghanistan Thomas West.

“To be honest, I don’t think we need a third country to facilitate our engagement with the Taliban,” said Mr West when asked if Pakistan could facilitate their talks with Afghanistan’s current rulers.

“I am in very regular touch with the Taliban. There are other colleagues of mine in the US government who are also engaging. I think that dialogue needs to be direct. I don’t think we need a third country,” he added.

In an interview to the Voice of America’s Urdu broadcasting service, aired this weekend, Mr West also dismissed the suggestion that the United States needs Pakistan’s airspace to reach Afghanistan.

“We need to continue diplomacy to ensure that … the Taliban …fulfil … (their) terrorism commitments (and) uphold the rights of Afghans which they are not doing across the board,” he said. “I think we need to ensure that those other countries — that share a border … common languages, cultures and traditions — do this work in a complementary fashion.”

Instead of underlining Pakistan as the country that could persuade the Taliban militants to fulfil their commitments, the US envoy said the entire Muslim world had “an incredibly important and credible role” to play in engaging with the Afghans — “with the Afghan women, with the Ulema as well as with the Taliban” — to make this happen.

Mr West pointed out that US envoys were already engaging with Indonesia, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and others to achieve this target.

Asked why the US has not denied Pakistan’s role in the drone strike against Zawahiri in Kabul, Mr West only said the Zawahiri strike, and the Taliban sheltering of Ayman al-Zawahiri, was a flagrant breach of the Doha agreement.

He confirmed that the US officials and representatives of the Taliban met in Doha this month for the first time since the fall of Kabul and talked about ensuring that Afghanis­tan never becomes a terrorist safe haven again. “So, we are going to continue to engage the Taliban pragmatically in that regard,” he added.

Asked if the US needed over-the-horizon access through Pakistan to Afghanistan, the US official said: “As we made clear, following … our withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, we were going to, and we have reorganised our capabilities in the region to ensure that terrorists never threaten the United States or our allies ever again.”

The US drone strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul earlier this year “makes clear that we have a capability to protect Americans,” he added.

Mr West said he held “intensive discussions” with the officials of a key partner state during his three-day stay in Islamabad “regarding our shared interests in Afghanistan”.

Asked why US President Joe Biden, in a recent statement, questioned the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, he said: “I have nothing more to say on that question for you”.

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