America has exhausted all of its military options in Afghanistan and is left with little choice but to forge ahead in peace talks with the Taliban, Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Asad M. Khan said Monday, underscoring the high stakes of grueling negotiations.
In an exclusive interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Khan said the two sides have reached a crucial moment — despite continued Taliban attacks and a spike in American strikes against the radical Islamist movement’s top targets — to solidify a cease-fire agreement that could wind down two decades of conflict and bring to a close the longest war in U.S. history.
President Trump has pressed for a deal with the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul that would allow him to draw down the estimated 12,000-plus American combat troops based in the country, but both sides have balked when a deal appeared in sight over the past year.
“What is the alternative?” Mr. Khan said. “There is no military solution. You have tried it with a much larger military presence there, and that did not result in peace.”
In a wide-ranging conversation with The Times, Pakistan’s top diplomat in Washington slammed India’s actions in recent months in Kashmir, warned of a potential refugee crisis if the Kashmir dispute isn’t resolved peacefully and urged the U.S. and Iran to cool tensions or risk further destabilization of a fragile region.
Mr. Khan also said Pakistan is thankful for White House efforts to tamp down conflicts between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
Mr. Trump is set to visit India, but not Pakistan, at the end of the month, and speculation is mounting over what the U.S. president will say to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding the long stalemate over Kashmir.
On Afghanistan, Mr. Khan said a deal between the U.S. and Taliban leaders is easier than the next step: formal talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government.
Taliban leaders have refused to recognize the Afghan government and have steadfastly rejected face-to-face talks despite American prodding.
Despite the painfully slow process of reaching an agreement and the Trump administration’s clear frustration that the Taliban have not ceased violent attacks, Mr. Khan said this year represents a golden opportunity. The complexities and conflicts among major players in the region will only grow over time, he said.
“The geopolitical situation, frankly, today is more complicated than it was five years ago,” he said. “Who knows in a couple of years what it would be like?”
He said Iranian animosity toward the U.S. or its chief regional foe, Saudi Arabia, could spill into Afghanistan and make peace negotiations even more complicated.
“That, in a way, underpins our desire to see peace and tensions between the U.S. and Iran — and also tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia — defused,” he said. “Because if that does not happen, those rivalries play out wherever and whatever places they can play out.”
Optimism and caution
Top U.S. officials on Monday expressed optimism but also signaled frustration over peace talks. They said Taliban leaders have yet to fully demonstrate that they are willing to take steps needed to secure a deal, in particular to lower the level of violence.
“We’re working on a peace and reconciliation plan, putting the commas in the right place, getting the sentences right,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters while traveling in Uzbekistan. “We got close once before to having an agreement — a piece of paper that we mutually executed — and the Taliban were unable to demonstrate either their will or capacity or both to deliver on a reduction in violence.
“So what we are demanding now is demonstrable evidence of their will and capacity to reduce violence, to take down the threat, so the inter-Afghan talks … will have a less-violent context,” he said. “We’re hopeful we can achieve that, but we’re not there yet and work certainly remains.”
Prospects for a U.S.-Taliban deal seemed imminent in early September. Mr. Trump even invited Taliban leaders to a Camp David summit to announce an agreement, but those plans were scrapped at the last minute after Taliban attacks targeted Americans in Afghanistan.
Mr. Khan said Pakistan, which sees itself as the victim of jihadi violence and instability spilling over its long, porous border with Afghanistan, will do whatever it can to facilitate a U.S.-Taliban deal.
On Kashmir, he said India’s leaders are strategically positioning Pakistan as a villain for their domestic political purposes.
“They use Pakistan as a punching bag, and they want to escalate,” he said. “That is now a set pattern. I think that doesn’t really bode well for long-term peace and stability.”
In August, Mr. Modi’s government imposed a curfew over much of Indian-controlled Kashmir, and Delhi revoked the Muslim-majority territory’s special status as a semi-autonomous state.
Mr. Khan and other Pakistani officials have accused the Indian government of keeping out journalists and international observers, crushing the region’s tourism industry, essentially shutting off the area and holding large numbers of Kashmiris hostage in a de facto prison.
“If you are not allowing anyone to come in, the daily wages, those who work in the hospitality industry, all those jobs are gone,” he said. “So there is a serious economic crisis on top of the humanitarian crisis that Indian actions have generated.”
Top Indian officials have vehemently denied those allegations and cast the situation in Kashmir much differently. Indian officials told The Times last fall that Pakistan has preyed on young Kashmiris and incited violence in the region.
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