WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s actions are often a source of “frustration” to US’ regional efforts in Afghanistan, a top American general has said as he asked Islamabad to cease its behaviour undermining stability and play constructive role in achieving peace in South Asia.
During a Congressional hearing, Commander of the US Central Command General Joseph Votel told the lawmakers on Tuesday that militants operating out of Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to threaten Afghan stability as well as stoke tensions between Pakistan and India.
“We look to regional actors such as Pakistan to cease behaviour undermining regional stability and play constructive role in achieving peace in Afghanistan as well as the whole of South Asia,” General Votel told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In his testimony, General Votel said that Pakistan has taken positive steps to assist Special US Representative of Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in support of Afghanistan reconciliation by facilitating talks with the Taliban.
But Pakistan “has avoided taking any concrete or irreversible steps such as arresting or expelling Taliban leaders who do not cooperate with reconciliation efforts,” he said.
Since being appointed in September last, Khalilzad has met with all sides in an attempt to end America’s longest war in which the US has lost over 2,400 soldiers in more than 17 years.
The Taliban control nearly half of Afghanistan, and are more powerful than at any time since the 2001 US-led invasion after the 9/11 terror attacks.
“With our strategic focus on reconciliation and regional security, Pakistan has a unique opportunity to make good on its promises of support to US efforts focused on finding a negotiated settlement to the Afghanistan conflict,” the US Commander said.
If Pakistan plays a positive role in achieving a settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, the US will have opportunity and motive to help Islamabad fulfil that role, as peace in the region is the most important mutual priority for the US and Pakistan, he said.
Pakistan, Votel said, presents the US with challenges and opportunities in the execution of its South Asia Strategy.
As a state possessing nuclear weapons that sits at the nexus of Russian, Chinese, Indian, Iranian, and US geopolitical interests, Pakistan will always be a country of importance to the US, he noted.
“However, Pakistan’s actions are often a source of frustration to the US regional efforts in Afghanistan,” Votel said.
The Pentagon’s posture with Pakistan involves supporting Department of State as they pursue a diplomatic solution with Islamabad to end the conflict in Afghanistan while ensuring that Pakistan’s equities are acknowledged and addressed in any future agreement.
Votel told lawmakers that Pakistan has not taken concrete actions against the safe havens of violent extremist organisations or VEOs inside its borders.
“Similarly, VEOs located in Afghanistan conduct attacks inside Pakistan. This cross-border instability and violence generates tension along both sides of the border,” he said.
“The suspension of US security assistance funds to Pakistan remains in place. Meanwhile, some US Pakistan military cooperation activities have continued, demonstrating the importance of military cooperation, despite challenges in the bilateral relationship,” the general said.