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US fully supports Pak-Afghan dialogue, says Wells

    WASHINGTON: The United States “fully supports” the peace process that led to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s visit to Kabul this week and hopes that for a “more productive exchange” of views between India and Pakistan as well, says a senior US diplomat.

    Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells in an interview to India’s The Hindu newspaper acknowledged that Pakistan had taken steps against terrorists but called for more “sustainable and irreversible” actions.

    “I wish I could take credit for that, but the Afghanistan-Pakistan talks have been under way ever since Gen (Qamar Javed) Bajwa went to Kabul in October 2017,” said Ambassador Wells when the interviewer suggested that PM Abbasi’s visit to Kabul was “one of the outcomes” of her recent visit to Kabul and Islamabad.

    Official says Washington always encourages Islamabad and Delhi to sit down and resolve issues

    “We are very supportive of that, but it is not a US process,” she said. “I think it is an excellent initiative between the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to strengthen their bilateral relationship.”

    Noting that until Afghanistan and Pakistan had more normal relations it’s impossible to talk about broader reconciliation, Ms Wells said: “We fully support the framework agreement that they are seeking to formalise and the action groups that are embedded in it.”

    The United States, she said, would like to see concrete steps to improve the relations between the two countries on all fronts, from bilateral trade to border management and the presence of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

    “All of these are issues that require greater coordination and collaboration, so we welcome this step,” she said.

    Asked if the US would encourage similar contacts between India and Pakistan, Ambassador Wells said: “We always encourage India and Pakistan to sit down and resolve issues.”

    She noted that India and Pakistan had always had “a level of dialogue taking place,” whether it’s at the routine level for prisoner release or buses from Kashmir, or at the level of DGMOs when to stop shelling across the Line of Control.

    “I hope that through the stabilisation of Afghanistan, and enacting the South Asia strategy, that conditions can emerge that will allow for a more productive exchange between India and Pakistan,” she said. “But we’re not getting in between the two countries’ ability to speak to one another.”

    Talking about her visit to Pakistan last week, Ambassador Wells referred to a recent statement by commander of US Central Command Gen Joseph Votel who recognised the “initial constructive steps” that Pakistan had taken. “We want to build on that. Our conversation with Pakistan is about the unique influence it has and the unique levers it has in helping to shape Taliban expectations and to convince the Taliban to walk through what we all recognise is an open door,” she said.

    “Those conversations are ongoing. We are not walking away from Pakistan, but we do not believe that yet we have seen the kind of sustainable and irreversible steps that are required to really change the situation on the ground.”

    ‘Economically secure state’

    Ambassador Wells said she was ‘heartened’ by recent comments by Gen Bajwa, saying that the “state must have the monopoly on violence”, and there’s “no role for non-state actors”, and that “Pakistan can’t be a normal state if there are extremist groups”.

    “Those are extremely positive statements and now I think the challenge is to see them implemented. We are certainly in a very good faith conversation with Pakistan,” she said.

    The United States, she said, wanted Pakistan to succeed as “law enforced and economically secure country”.

    Noting that Pakistan was also a victim of terrorism, she added: “I always say that terrorists who attack Pakistan are also enemies of the United States. We have an agenda, we believe we have shared interests and Pakistan has a stake in a stable Afghanistan. So how do we make that calculus work?”

    Ms Wells said that the presence of the militant Islamic State (IS) group in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region adds “an urgency” to the situation. “Imagine if an insurgency became a nihilistic campaign that recognised no borders. We can’t afford the conflict and the ideological stew there to metastasise.”

    She said the US shared India’s concern over Hafiz Saeed and his ability to operate freely and was engaged in “a serious process” with Pakistan to resolve this issue. “So, I would say, bear with us, this isn’t the end of our diplomatic game. We are continuously engaging in Pakistan because we do see the need for change.”

    Asked if the US had a timeline for Pakistan to act, Ambassador Wells said: “We are evaluating as we go, in consultations with our allies and friends.”

    “There will soon be a new civilian leadership in Pakistan, and we will see how the new government will take steps to demonstrate to the international community that Pakistan is serious about curbing terror financing and money laundering,” she said when asked what she would want Pakistan to do.

    Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2018

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