US asks Pakistan to stop militants from using its soil

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“This is the commitment that Pakistan has made to its partners, and we expect it to take steps necessary to promote dialogue, reduce violence in Afghanistan, and encourage the Taliban to engage in meaningful negotiations,”

WASHINGTON: The US State Department has urged Pakistan to take military action against Taliban leaders who allegedly used its territory for cross-border attacks, besides continuing to encourage them to resume peace talks with Kabul.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz told reporters in Islamabad earlier this week that Pakistan could not accept the Afghan demand to abandon its peace efforts and take immediate military action against the Taliban leaders. Instead, Mr Aziz offered to push for resuming the reconciliation talks as soon as possible.

When asked for comments on the Pakistani position, a State Department official reminded Islamabad that in December last year Afghanistan and Pakistan signed a joint statement, agreeing, “not to allow use of their respective soil against each other”.

The official noted that Afghanistan and Pakistan had also agreed to “sternly handle any elements crossing over and getting involved in violence on either side, through active intelligence sharing and intelligence-based operations”.

Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani urged Pakistan to evict Taliban insurgents through military action or arrest and hand them over to Kabul for trial and punishment for killing innocent Afghans. President Ghani also said that he would no longer seek Pakistan’s help in arranging reconciliation talks with the Taliban.

But Mr Aziz said on Tuesday that the Afghan outrage at Pakistan was “an expression of frustration” at the delay in reconciliation talks. He said it was unfortunate the Taliban had gone ahead with their Spring Offensive, pushing aside Islamabad’s efforts for re-starting the talks.

But the State Department official reminded Mr Aziz and other Pakistani officials that Pakistan had made a commitment to Afghanistan and other partners not to allow the militants to use its territory.

“This is the commitment that Pakistan has made to its partners, and we expect it to take steps necessary to promote dialogue, reduce violence in Afghanistan, and encourage the Taliban to engage in meaningful negotiations,” the official said.

When reminded that Mr Aziz clearly signalled they would not take military action against these Taliban leaders, the US official noted that Pakistanis’ commitment to support a reconciliation process was clearly stated through the Quadrilateral Coordi­nation Group as well, which includes Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States.

“That is the basis and expectation on which we will continue to engage Pakistan,” he said.

The US official pointed out that at a recent congressional hearing, the United States underlined the need for an effective engagement with Pakistan as critical for promoting peace and stability in the region.

Asked what was the US policy regarding Pakistan’s support for the Haqqani Network and other Afghan Taliban groups allegedly operating from the Pakistani soil, the official said: “We have consistently expressed our concerns at the highest levels of the government of Pakistan about their continued tolerance for Afghan Taliban groups, such as the Haqqani Network operating from Pakistani soil. We did so again following the devastating suicide attack on April 19 in Kabul.”

He said the US administration had “pressed” the Pakistani government to follow up on its commitment not to discriminate among terrorist groups, regardless of their agenda or affiliation, by undertaking concrete action against the Haqqanis.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2016

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