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June 22, 2018

Ambassador Wells’ testimony: US again puts Pakistan on notice for Taliban ‘sanctuaries’


June 22, 2018

WASHINGTON: The US has declared again that it has put Pakistan on notice and expects unequivocal cooperation in ending sanctuaries that the Taliban has allegedly been enjoying in its territory.

“Pakistan is on notice that we expect its unequivocal cooperation ending sanctuaries that the Taliban have enjoyed since the remnants of their toppled regime fled into Pakistan in 2001,” said Ambassador Alice Wells, Senior Bureau Official for South and Central Asian Affairs, in an official testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

She acknowledged that Pakistan has an important role to play and has legitimate interests that it wants to ensure are met during any peace process. "The dialogue that we have with Pakistan seeks to address those concerns while also encouraging additional concrete support for Afghan peace efforts. For example, with U.S. support, Pakistan and Afghanistan entered into a constructive dialogue to develop the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), an initiative to which we have given our full support," she said.

Wells then repeated allegations that "despite some positive indicators, the administration has not yet seen Pakistan take the sustained or decisive steps that it would have expected to see ten months after the announcement of the South Asia strategy, including arresting or expelling Taliban elements who will not come to the negotiating table."

She said that the Trump administration's conditions-based South Asia strategy that ensures the Taliban could not win on the battlefield was yielding positive results because the Afghan security forces were fighting with renewed confidence and were slowing the Taliban’s momentum. "If Afghan troops and Taliban foot-soldiers can pray together, then the Afghan people have every reason to believe that their leaders can come together and negotiate an end to this war," she said adding, "achieving progress toward this goal is among our highest diplomatic priorities."

The administration recognizes that a resolution to the conflict will be through a negotiated political settlement, the ambassador said. "Our desired outcomes for any peace process are clear and have not changed. The Taliban must renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaida, and accept the Afghan Constitution – including its protections for women and minorities," Wells said.

The administration also recognizes the decisive role that American leadership can have in catalyzing progress toward a peace agreement; and has made clear that it was prepared to support, facilitate, and participate in direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

"We will support the government and all Afghan stakeholders as they work to reach a mutually agreeable negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and ensures Afghanistan is never again used as a safe haven for terrorist groups," Wells said in her testimony adding, "there have been signs that the Taliban’s Pakistan-based leaders are debating the merits of joining a peace process; however, the group has not responded to President Ghani’s offer of unconditional talks."

She announced that the administration was pursuing a multi-track strategy to make clear to the Taliban that negotiations were their best option. "The strategy has a number of distinct lines of effort quite apart from the military effort. These include a diplomatic effort to rally regional support for the Afghan Government and isolate the Taliban, and a financial component designed to eliminate the Taliban’s ability to raise funds from donors and from narcotics trafficking. We are also working to end the sanctuary that the Taliban have enjoyed for decades in Pakistan and to encourage fighting elements within the Taliban to consider local arrangements to de-escalate the levels of violence," ambassador Wells said.

Laying out four key areas where the administration wants to help bolster prospects for an eventual settlement of the conflict, she said that the U.S. supports Afghan efforts to reduce violence and protect a peace process from spoilers. The administration supports Afghan government reforms and also encourages Afghans from across the political spectrum to come together in support of peace and to put the interests of their country first during upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. Lastly, its engaging with Afghanistan’s neighbors and near-neighbors to build regional support for the Afghan government’s peace vision and discourage spoilers.

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