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Top US diplomat says conditions not right for Afghan talks, calls for Pakistan to expel terrorists

US deputy secretary of state John Sullivan said, “Conditions now do not look hospitable to peace negotiations today in the light of what’s happened in the last few weeks...” 

world Updated: Feb 02, 2018 10:17 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US diplomat,US Afghanistan ties,Pakistan terrorism
US deputy secretary of state John Sullivan speaks at the United Nations Security Council.(AP File Photo)

A top US diplomat said on Thursday peace in Afghanistan remains the goal but the current conditions are not “hospitable” for talks after the recent terrorist attacks by the Taliban and renewed a call to adjoining Pakistan to take action against “all terrorists” within its borders.

Deputy secretary of state John Sullivan said “conditions now do not look hospitable to peace negotiations today in the light of what’s happened in the last few weeks … but we are committed to the policy” while speaking to reporters about a visit to Kabul — and Iraq — earlier in the week.

Talks can start, he added, when the conditions are “ripe”. But that will not be for the United States to decide, state department officials said. The timing will be determined, it was added, by the Afghan government and the Taliban — it’s an “Afghan-led” process, and that’s how it will stay.

Refusing to be drawn into what he termed as “speculation” about who was behind the attacks carried out by the Taliban, the Number 2 diplomat in the state department called upon Pakistan to support the fight against all “all terrorists”, especially those operating from within its boundaries.

In that, the deputy secretary had struck a subtly nuanced note on the US’ “expectations” from Pakistan, as the word he chose to describe the list of counter-terrorism demands delivered to Islamabad, insisting that Pakistan must expel or get rid of all terrorists and not just those active in Afghanistan.

US officials have tended to hold Pakistan accountable only for the Haqqani Network, a Taliban affiliate, and other terrorist outfits operating in Afghanistan in remarks explaining the recent suspension of nearly $2 billion in security aid to Pakistan. But not Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad that target India.

Sullivan did not mention India, but in the short 30-minute interaction with reporters, he repeatedly stressed, reprising a position New Delhi wants to see in the US pronouncements on Pakistan and terrorism — that it must act against “all” terrorists, affecting the “region” and only those active in Afghanistan,

Afghanistan has alleged Pakistani role in the two recent terrorist attacks that claimed more than 125 lives. It has said the attackers were trained in Pakistan and some of the equipment they were carrying were supplied by the Pakistani army and that the evidence has been handed over to Islamabad.

Sullivan also refused to offer the US assessment of the reasons behind this sudden escalation in terrorist strikes, that officials in Afghanistan have alleged was Pakistan’s attempt to establish its relevance. Islamabad has condemned the attacks and dismissed suggestions it had a role.

Following the attacks, President Donald Trump had said there was no point talking to the Taliban.

“They’re killing people left and right. Innocent people being killed left and right,” he said Monday. “So we don’t want to talk with the Taliban. There may be a time, but it’s going to be a long time.”

American officials had rushed then to explain the remark and tap down concerns that it was a change in policy. The United States still favoured talks, they had insisted. Sullivan put it in perspective on Thursday, saying conditions as currently seen do not lend themselves to talks unless they change.

Asked what would he define as conditions conducive to talks, the second senior-most US diplomat said it would be the Taliban abjuring violence, ceasing terrorist attacks.

“No terrorist attacks, for example, as we are seeing now,” Sullivan said, adding that care will be taken to not blame the Taliban for attacks carried out by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq or just Islamic State — IS, as called in India, ISIS-K (K is Khorasan, a historical region including Afghanistan and parts of Iran and Central Asian countries) and al Qaeda.

“But a commitment by the Taliban to engage in constructive discussions that we believe they are serious about a stable, peaceful Afghanistan,” he said, seeking “an indication that we have a counter-party, that the Afghans have a counter-party with whom to .. engage … and cutting ties to terrorism …”

First Published: Feb 02, 2018 10:14 IST