IN-THE-NEWS: Top former US officials call for talks with Taliban

WASHINGTON: As the Trump administration is gearing up to announce its Afghan policy review, four top US officials formerly linked in some capacity with Afghan war have urged the Trump administration to move for a political settlement in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan and other regional partners.

Speaking at a US think tank, the influential officials also snubbed some Afghan participants who called for reconsidering Durand Line and US aid to Pakistan saying that even complete halt in US aid won’t change Pakistan’s position as the country is no more dependent on American assistance.

The speakers included former US ambassador to NATO and former deputy national security adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, former acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (2016-2017), Laurel Miller, former senior adviser to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (2009-2013), Barnett Rubin and former senior adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the under secretary of defense for policy, Christopher Kolenda.

They said sending a few thousand more troops to Afghanistan will not change the situation drastically and negotiated political solution is the only way forward for the United States. They added that with the exception of India, all regional powers like China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan want a non-military political solution to the Afghan conflict as no one wants permanent US military bases in their backyard.

During the debate two Afghan participants tried to blame Pakistan for Afghan trouble and credited US aid for Pakistan’s recent economic turn-around. However experts completely disagree with them.

“US aid did not give rise to Pakistan’s economy,” said Barnett Rubin adding that there are misconception about the magnitude of US aid. He explained that US aid was not given to Pakistan in return for Pakistan’s fight against Taliban in Afghanistan. “US assistance to Pakistan was given under an agreement between General Musharraf and President Bush which allowed use of Pakistan’s territory to put our military in Afghanistan. Without Pakistan’s permission, we could not have entered our forces in Afghanistan, a landlocked country.”

He said if US breaks the agreement, Pakistan can also follow suit and stop movement of Nato and US containers on its soil. Laurel Miller who served as Af-Pak representative said US can cut off 100 percent aid to Pakistan but it would still not change Pakistan’s perception about its security concerns.

She said US wants to use aid to press Pakistan from its position of supporting Taliban but the administration has to understand that Pakistan is no more dependent on the US assistance. On a question about Durand Line, she said US can’t resolve the problem as Pakistan would never accept that. “It is not a realistic thing to assume US will help Afghanistan in its claim on Durand Line”.

She said US should facilitate international mediator between Taliban and Afghan government so that regional partners especially Pakistan could understand that US is sincere in peace process.

“These countries would be in the region forever. They have stakes and if they see that a political outcome can protect their stakes they are more likely to support that solution,” she added. Douglas Lute, Former US ambassador to Nato said US troop surge of a few thousand will not break the stalemate in Afghanistan. He called for effective political dialogue to resolve the conflict.

Christopher Kolenda said US is spending about $25 billion every year on Afghan war. He said the only possible solution for US is a negotiated settlement. “Since Second World War studies show that insurgency that has external sanctuary and internal support has been successful every single time,” he said.

He said Pakistan believes a stable Afghanistan will team up with India to harm Pakistan and India understands this fear and it is using its relations with Afghanistan to forward its own interests in the region.

This article originally appeared in The News, July 15, 2017.