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Eliminating Taliban’s safe havens will bring it to the table: US official

world Updated: Oct 04, 2016 11:37 IST

Richard Olson, the state department special representative for Afghanistan, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee September 15, 2016 in Washington, DC. (AFP)

The elimination of the Taliban’s safe havens inside Pakistan would be helpful in bringing the Afghan terror group to peace talks, a top US envoy has said.

Richard Olson, the special US representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Pakistan has been a “good partner” in reconciliation efforts, but despite that terrorist safe havens still continue to exist in the country.

“With regard to reconciliation, they have been a good partner. Pakistan was one of the initiators of the quadrilateral coordinating group. They made serious and sustained efforts to bring the Taliban to the table. The Taliban at the end of the day did not come to the table, and I think the onus is on them for that decision,” he told a Washington audience last week.

Olson said the US has been having a dialogue with Pakistan for many years about the existence of such havens.

“We continue to believe that one of the conditions that would be most helpful for getting the Taliban to come to the table would be if they felt greater insecurity about their safe havens in Pakistan. We have very candid and direct discussions with them about that,” Olson said.

The US, he said, continues to believe that Pakistan is key to a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.

“We certainly encourage the Pakistanis to do anything possible to address the question of safe havens and to address as I said to create a sense of insecurity in the minds of the Taliban about the safe haven that they enjoy in Pakistan,” he said.

Olson also praised India’s efforts in assisting Afghanistan with its development projects.

“India has been a useful partner for Afghanistan. When Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi visited Afghanistan, he pledged a billion dollars of assistance. And of course, India has been actively engaged in development of Afghanistan reconstructing the Salma Dam outside of Herat, and a number of other development projects,” he said.

He also appreciated the “important and welcome” security assistance provided by India to Afghanistan in terms of helping the strife-torn country build up their air force.

Asked if India’s developmental activities in Afghanistan are upsetting Pakistan, he said “We don’t see India in partnership, especially in the areas that I’ve described, as being something that comes at the expense of Pakistan.”

“There is also an enhanced US-India partnership happening these days. And we don’t see that in zero sum game terms. We don’t see that as being at the expense of our relationship with Pakistan. We continue to be a partner with Pakistan and encourage them to play a constructive and helpful role with regard to Afghanistan,” he said.