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October 29, 2017

US not dictating Pakistan on Taliban talks: US official

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October 29, 2017

WASHINGTON: The United States has laid out some very specific expectations of how Pakistan can help create the conditions that will help bring the Taliban to the negotiation table, a senior diplomat for South Asia Alice Wells said here yesterday.

“All this is Pakistan’s sovereign choice. This is not about America giving dictation, she elaborated saying: “We have described our strategy; we have described a very important role
for Pakistan, who we see as a very important country in the region, but it’s up to them whether or not they want to work with us on this strategy.”

Briefing journalists on US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's recent visit to the region, she said “the longstanding relationship with the militant and terrorist organisations threaten Pakistan’s stability.”

The Trump administration believes that the Taliban leadership and the Haqqani network retains an ability to plan, to recuperate, and to reside with their families in Pakistan, she said adding that “the Quetta and Peshawar leadership councils of the Taliban have their names for a reason.”

Praising Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism, Wells said that the country made a strategic decision in 2014 to defeat terrorist groups and fought the battle eventually regaining control and sovereignty over the Fata territories. “We’d like to see the same strategic commitment brought against other militant groups, whether they’re operating or have used Pakistan’s territory, whether they are directed against India or directed against Afghanistan.”

 She said the secretary, during his trip, had a candid conversation with Pakistani officials, where the secretary underscored the Trump strategy as an opportunity. “It’s an opportunity since Pakistan, with the exception of Afghanistan, has the most to benefit from a stable and peaceful country next door."

Islamabad has always maintained that peace in Afghanistan is beneficial for it as well as for the region. For that, Pakistani officials have argued, international forces and Afghan army needs to uproot militant groups inside Afghanistan that use the territory to attack Pakistan.

Wells, who's the acting assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, stressed that the administration wants to see practical steps from Pakistan over the next few weeks and months. Stressing her point, she said that Pakistan needs to quickly demonstrate good faith and efforts to use its influence to get the Taliban to the table. “These are things that are seen and felt and measured, and so we look forward to the next weeks and months to see the practical steps that Pakistan takes out of its own self-interest and ensuring that its own country is not destabilised by some of the actions of the groups that have been able to use its territory.”

Answering a question about the Taliban's political commission, she said  the South Asia strategy “is predicted on a negotiated political settlement that is sustainable. That obviously requires a partner in the Taliban, and we are looking to see those moderate elements of the Taliban be empowered to undertake this kind of dialogue.”

The State Department official also declined to elaborate on what actions the administration could take if Pakistan refuses to act on its recommendations. She limited herself to saying that the two countries have worked well together in the past and new cooperation has started again.

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