Days after US President Donald Trump seek Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s help in the Afghan peace process, a top American commander has told lawmakers that Islamabad’s policy seems to be unaltered and it continues to use the Taliban as a hedge against India.
“Pakistan is the major element in long-term stability in Afghanistan,” Marine Corps Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie Jr told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday in his confirmation hearing for the commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM).
Pakistan could play a vital role in facilitating talks between the Taliban and government of Afghanistan, he said, adding, “I would welcome that development. At this time, however, Pakistan does not appear to be utilizing the full extent of its influence to encourage the Taliban to come to the table.”
“We continue to see the Taliban being used as a hedge against India rather than as part of a stable, reconciled Afghanistan,” McKenzie told the lawmakers during his confirmation hearing.
His response to the Senate Armed Services Committee in response to a set of written questions come a day after it became public that Trump has written a letter to Imran Khan, seeking his help in the Afghan peace process.
“President Trump reverted a letter to Prime Minister Khan, requesting Pakistan’s full support to the US-led Afghan peace process and Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s upcoming trip to the region,” a spokesperson of the National Security Council, White House, told PTI.
“In the letter, the President see that Pakistan has the ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory,” the spokesperson said.
“The letter also makes it transparent that Pakistan’s assistance with the Afghan peace process is fundamental to building an enduring US-Pakistan partnership,” the spokesperson said.
McKenzie said lawmakers that he did not see much of a change in Pakistan’s behavior towards Afghanistan or its stand against terrorist groups.
Despite Pakistan’s positive rhetoric in the help of the South Asia Strategy, violent extremist organizations or VEOs operate along its border with Afghanistan, he said.
While Pakistan has organized some operations against VEOs in the country, they must continue to expand these operations and remain aggressively engaged, McKenzie said.
“Taking hard steps that deny VEO safe havens in Pakistan, as well as VEO freedom of movement from Pakistan to Afghanistan, remains mandatory ask that Pakistan needs to fulfill. Pakistan must leverage their influence over the Taliban leadership to help compel them to come to the table for reconciliation negotiations,” he added.
McKenzie stated that the US CENTCOM would continue to support the State Department as it works towards a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Afghanistan which includes ensuring that Islamabad’s equities are acknowledged in any future agreement.
Pakistan’s action or inaction, as it concerned to stability in Afghanistan, has often led to US’s frustration, he said, adding that stability in the South Asia region remains the most important mutual strategic interest for both the US and Pakistan.
“We must continue to engage with the Pakistani leadership to realize how we can achieve this mutual interest,” McKenzie said.