Political settlement in Afghanistan won’t mean an end to violence: US State Department Official

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary said that the United States, India and Afghanistan had all suffered from terrorism and were determined to stop it

Updated - November 22, 2019 08:11 am IST

Published - November 22, 2019 07:35 am IST - Washington DC

Donald Trump. File

Donald Trump. File

Two and a half months after talks between the U.S. and Taliban collapsed , U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Afghanistan Nancy Jackson said a political settlement in Afghanistan did not mean that the violence would cease.

“…No-one should be under any illusion that a political settlement will immediately mean an end to violence,” Ms. Jackson said at a conference on the India-Afghanistan relationship at the Hudson Institute , a Washington DC-based think tank.

“There will still be violent extremist groups like ISIS, and there will still be armed groups pursuing their own criminal or political objectives. A comprehensive peace agreement will, however, enable Afghans to work together to fight these common threats…” Ms. Jackson said.

Ms. Jackson said that the United States, India and Afghanistan had all suffered from terrorism and were determined to stop it.

“In 2017, the President’s South Asia Strategy acknowledged that military power alone will not bring peace to Afghanistan or stop the terrorist threat arising from that country, “ Ms. Jackson said.

“Rather, our military effort is designed to create conditions for a negotiated settlement. This effort involves military resolve in Afghanistan, with decisions based on conditions on the ground,” she added.

Outlining his administration’s South Asia Policy , U.S. President Donald Trump had said in 2017 that “the consequences of a rapid exit [ of U.S. troops from Afghanistan] are both predictable and unacceptable”.

Nevertheless, early in 2019, the Trump administration started negotiating a settlement with the Taliban, which would see the withdrawal of most U.S. troops in a phased manner, in return for security commitments from the Taliban. The Afghan government had felt sidelined by these talks and India had been wary of the exercise, as it has wanted an “Afghan-owned, Afghan-led, and Afghan-controlled” process.

Talks collapsed in September when Mr. Trump called off the secret talks with the Taliban at Camp David, after the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack in Afghanistan that killed 12 people including an American.

India’s development role in Afghanistan

Also contentious, was Mr. Trump’s earlier characterisation of India’s role in Afghanistan. In January, the U.S. President had dismissed India’s contributions to Afghanistan, saying Prime Minister Modi was "constantly telling me [Mr. Trump] he built a library in Afghanistan”.

On Thursday, following remarks by India’s envoy to the U.S. Harsh Shringla, in which the ambassador listed India’s major development works in Afghanistan and the $3 billion it has spent there since 2001, Ms. Jackson acknowledged India’s projects, “from the construction of dams, roads, electrical lines, irrigation systems, and telecommunications infrastructure to building a stadium in Kandahar for Afghanistan’s cricket team.”

‘Preserving gains of last 18 years’

India has also been concerned that however the U.S. position and strategy in Afghanistan plays out, the gains since 2001 should be preserved. This was emphasised by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar when he did a tour of Washington’s think tanks in the first week of October, and it was brought up again by Mr Shringla on Thursday.

“Democracy and constitutional order in Afghanistan are the major gains of the last 18 years, which are worth preserving,” Mr. Shringla said.

The change in the ground realities of Afghanistan over the last two decades was noted by Ms. Jackson.

“Afghanistan is a much different country than it was 20 years ago, with institutions, security forces, and a growing civic culture that make it increasingly inhospitable to global terrorists. Although transnational terrorist groups like al-Qaida and ISIS-Khorasan continue to seek a foothold there, time is not on their side,” she said.

Trump speaks to Ghani

Mr. Trump spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to thank him for facilitating the release of hostages Kevin King and Timothy Weeks, White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said on Thursday.

“President Trump affirmed the important role of the Afghan government in its country’s peace process. Both sides agreed a reduction in violence is necessary to move the peace process forward and for any intra-Afghan negotiations regarding a political settlement to be successful,” Mr. Deere said.

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