ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – A senior Pakistan diplomat Friday stressed the need for the United States to demonstrate urgency in concluding its reassessment of a February 2020 peace pact with Afghanistan’s Taliban to enable the ensuing reconciliation talks between warring Afghans to move forward.
Pakistan Ambassador to Afghanistan Mansoor Ahmad Khan advised U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration not to alter mutually agreed upon troop withdrawal timelines without consulting the Afghan insurgent group.
“We know the institutional review processes take time in the United States, but we hope that in the interest of taking this process toward its logical conclusion the review will be completed soon,” Khan said while delivering a public talk at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute think tank.
“The U.S.-Taliban agreement has mutual obligations for the parties and … whatever U.S. conclusions come out of this review they have to be addressed through interaction with Taliban,” the envoy stressed.
The Biden administration is studying the February 29 agreement his predecessor sealed with the Taliban one year ago. The document binds Washington to withdraw the remaining 2,500 American soldiers in Afghanistan by May 1, along with nearly 10,000 NATO-led allied troops, to close the longest war in U.S. history.
In return, the Taliban agreed to stop attacking international forces and subsequently opened direct peace talks with representatives of the U.S.-backed Kabul government in Qatar last September. The dialogue, officially known as intra-Afghan negotiations, is aimed at finding a political settlement between two adversaries that would end two decades of Afghan war. But it has made little progress.
Biden is under pressure to abandon the May deadline amid allegations the Taliban have neither lived up to their commitments, including cutting ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, nor reduced the level of insurgent violence in Afghanistan.
The Taliban reject the charges and insist on the full implementation of the deal. They have warned the U.S. that any changes in the bilateral arrangement would lead to a “dangerous escalation” in the war.
Khan supported the U.S. review process, saying “things are not conducive” for an unconditional withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, citing increased violence and the absence of a political deal.
Khan rejected long-running charges Islamabad was covertly supporting and sheltering Taliban leaders to help them retake power in Afghanistan.
The Islamist movement had taken control of most of Afghanistan in 1990s when the country had been plagued by factional fighting after the withdrawal of erstwhile Soviet troops. Pakistan was one of the three countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that had recognized the Taliban’s government at the time.
The Taliban had imposed their strict version of Islamic laws in the turmoil-hit country when they were in control of most of Afghanistan for five years until a U.S.-led military invasion ousted them from power for sheltering al-Qaida leadership blamed for orchestrating the September 2001 terror attacks on U.S. cities.
The Islamist Taliban had banned girls from receiving an education and barred women from outdoor activities in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is credited with bringing Taliban leaders into the February 2020 peace deal with the U.S. and engaging in the ensuing peace negotiations with Afghan rivals.
Officials in Islamabad maintain “we have exercised our influence to the hilt” to encourage the insurgents to participate in the intra-Afghan talks, but it is now “exclusively up to Afghans” to agree on a political settlement among themselves to end years of bloodshed in their country.
Ambassador Khan said on Friday that Pakistan had strongly conveyed to the Taliban to desist from using military means to seize power because it would mean continuation of Afghan hostilities.
Khan echoed remarks made by the chief spokesman of the Pakistani military earlier this week that Islamabad had no favorites in Afghanistan and that it would not support the military takeover of the country by the Taliban.
“Everyone now understands that this is not the 1990s. There is a big change in Afghan society, there is a big change in Pakistan and, therefore, an understanding of implementation of international human rights standards, including rights of women, will have to be ensured if we have to have a sustainable peace in Afghanistan,” Khan said.