Pakistan has denied a serious charge by Afghanistan’s Vice-President, who said Pakistan’s airforce threatened to launch missiles at the Afghan airforce if it targets posts claimed by the Taliban. The charges and denial came just as a conference in Tashkent got under way with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on stage, where External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad were present. In an interaction with The Hindu , Mr. Khalilzad said Pakistan must fulfil its special role in peace in Afghanistan, and that the U.S. will not recognise a Taliban government in Kabul taken by force
The Taliban doesn't seem to be waiting for the outcome of intra-Afghan talks, and is making advances on cities. We've heard from the Afghan First Vice-President yesterday that Pakistan is threatening to use missiles, if the Afghan airforce acts against the Taliban. What if anything, is the U.S. prepared to do if the Taliban does forcibly take power in Kabul, and try to take over the country?
Well, there is no ultimate military solution, there has to be a political settlement for lasting peace in Afghanistan, and it has been made clear to the Taliban that not only ourselves, but many countries in the region and beyond will not recognise, will not assist the government that takes power by force. For an agreement that can produce stability, and peace and progress for Afghan people, we need two key features: it has to be broadly accepted by the Afghan people. And it has to have the support and acceptance of the neighbours and donors and other countries around the world. And that for those two things to happen, there is a need for a political dispensation, for a political agreement for political arrangements, that produces an inclusive government that reflects the diversity of Afghanistan, and that that government respects the fundamental rights of all Afghans, men, women. People of Afghanistan must be given the opportunity to have a say in the choice of how they're governed and who governs them. And finally, that Afghanistan doesn't pose a threat to the neighbours and beyond by allowing terrorists to use its territory, whether groups or individual. There is an international consensus on these principles. And all the neighbours one way or the other have said the same. And so I know that there are military movements and developments, but ultimately what is needed is a political settlement for these aspirations for peace and development to be achieved.
But what if that doesn't happen? What is the U.S. if anything prepared to do?
We will continue to support the Afghan government. We have said that while forces withdraw, yes, that is ongoing. But we will support the Afghan security forces where the [US] President's budget has asked for $3.3 billion in assistance for the Afghan security forces. We will provide economic support, we will provide humanitarian support. And at the same time, we will work with others to press for these objectives that I described.
But you said the neighbours are on board yet we see this threat apparently from Pakistan, saying that they will practically give a cover to the Taliban if the Afghan airforce were to act against them in Spin Boldak.
I don't know whether the Pakistanis have said that, we don't know that. The Pakistani Prime Minister is here, the Afghan President is here… I hope they will meet. It's vital that Pakistan play its role in helping Afghans to achieve an agreement of the kind that I described. And Pakistan has a special responsibility in this regard. So we're working with all sides in the service of those objectives.
Finally, you met with the Indian Foreign Minister as well, what are your expectations from India in all of this, particularly on the security point of view for Afghanistan?
India, of course, is a very important country in the region, of course, with a long history with Afghanistan. And we had a good discussion with the Foreign Minister [S. Jaishankar], covering mostly Afghanistan. And we agree despite the challenges that exist, and we have to address those challenges, that a political settlement of the kind I described is the ultimate solution. There is really no military solution. Some may have the illusion that there may be a military solution. But the costs of pushing for a military solution will be very high, and it will not achieve the objectives that I described. Taliban said they [don’t want to be shunned] and want to be accepted by the neighbours and by the international community as a legitimate actor, partner in the future. And those are aspirations that cannot be achieved if the military solution is sought.