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Start talks with Taliban, be tough on Pakistan, Trump urged

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WASHINGTON: Urging the Trump Administration to remain open to restart talks with the Taliban, a group of eminent South Asian experts from top US think tanks Monday urged the White House to take tough measures against Pakistan and send a strong signal to Islamabad that it will not be business as usual.

“Washington should remain open to attempts to restart Taliban talks with the Afghan government, but should not plan its strategy around this long-shot scenario. It is likely the Taliban will try to convince the international community that they are willing to negotiate, in order to influence decision-making on troop levels in Afghanistan by the new Trump administration,” said the report prepared by experts from top American think tanks.

“Although Prime Minister Sharif’s government has helped to bring Taliban leaders to the negotiating table, Pakistan’s intelligence services at times also have played spoiler when it feared that Afghan Taliban interlocutors could not be trusted to represent Pakistan’s interests. There should be consequences for Pakistan if it blocks realistic efforts to begin peace talks,” the report says.

The report titled “A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan: Enforcing Aid Conditions without Cutting Ties,” says that the United States must convey its expectation that Pakistan will take steps that end support to the Taliban, such as preventing Taliban leaders from living and meeting in Pakistan and curtailing export of arms, explosives, and ammunition to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“The US must also demand deportation of all Afghan Taliban leaders in accordance with Pakistan’s declared policy of returning all Afghan refugees,” says the report authored Lisa Curtis (The Heritage Foundation), Christine Fair (Georgetown University) Col (retd) John Gill (National Defense University), Anish Goel (New America), and Husain Haqqani (Hudson Institute).

Other authors of the repot are Polly Nayak (Independent Consultant), Aparna Pande Hudson Institute), Bruce Riedel (Brookings Institution), David S. Sedney (Center for Strategic and International Studies) and Dr. Marvin Weinbaum (Middle East Institute).

“In addition, Pakistan must invalidate all Pakistani ID cards, passports, and special passes for the Taliban to prevent them from easily passing through military checkpoints. Lastly, Islamabad must seize the financial assets and real estate holdings of all Afghan Taliban and Pakistani terrorist groups that support them,” said the report which would be formally released here on Friday.

“If Pakistan does not make progress on the above steps, the U.S. should consider compiling a list of Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officials, current and former, who are known to have facilitated acts of terrorism — including supporting the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network) — and barring them from travel to the U.S,” it said.

The report says that it would be foolish to keep giving the Pakistanis a pass when it comes to taking action against terrorist groups that are directly undermining US regional interests, not to mention killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

Whereas US government agencies were divided seven years ago over the nature and extent of Pakistan’s support to the Afghan Taliban and other terrorist and extremist groups, today no one in the U.S. government disputes that Pakistan provides such support, it noted.

The report says that as a first step, the U.S. must warn Pakistan that its status as a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) is in serious jeopardy. “Unless Pakistan takes immediate steps to demonstrate that it fully shares U.S. counterterrorism objectives, the U.S. will revoke its MNNA status within six months,” it said.

“Present to Pakistan a list of calibrated actions for ending its  support to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, and make clear  that failure to make substantial progress on these steps could  eventually result in Pakistan’s designation as a State Sponsor of  Terrorism,” the report recommends.

“If Pakistan does not make progress on the above steps, the US should consider compiling a list of Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officials, current and former, who are known to have facilitated acts of terrorism — including supporting the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network) — and barring them from travel to the US,” the report said. (PAN)