US to support Pak-Afghan efforts to re-engage with Taliban: Antony. Blinken

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ISLAMABAD Dec. 10 (APP): U.S Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has said Washington would support Pak-Afghan efforts to re-engage with Taliban for a lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.
There was a “strong commitment” both from Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process’ for achieving a long term peace and stability in Afghanistan, he told a group of reporters at a briefing here on Wednesday.

Blinken who is here to attend the Heart of Asia conference said during his interaction with representatives of Pakistan and Afghanistan he found that two countries were committed to start the peace process in Afghanistan.

“We welcome Pakistan’s facilitation of the first meeting between the Afghan government and fully authorized representatives of the Taliban in July as well as its ongoing efforts to support the launch of a peace process,” he said.

The Heart of Asia conference Wednesday reaffirmed the message of the international community to restart the peace process in Afghanistan, he said adding the message Taliban should be receiving, was that it was through dialogue and not military means that any progress could be achieved in Afghanistan.

“So there is a reaffirmation of the need to this process,” he said, adding the commitment today “is to re-engage in the process.”Afghan President spoke Wednesday at the Heart of Asia moot with clarity and authority which showed “Afghanistan is committed to engage
in this process if Taliban are prepared to engage,” said Deputy Secretary of State.

Asked about any timeline about the peace process in Afghanistan, he said, “There is no time-frame.” But there is a determination among all the stake-holders who wanted to see a movement forward on it.

The Murree peace process was disrupted in July this year on the sudden announcement about the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. He said bringing the right people around the same table would be considered a right step.

Blinken said a road-map to the Afghan peace process was discussed Wednesday among the stake-holders and this discussion would continue in days ahead for mulling over steps to be taken to advance it.

The US, he said, recognized and appreciated the ‘significant effort’ in North Waziristan where Pakistan had committed its troops and resources to eliminate terrorists hideouts. It had lost its troops as a result of retaliation to its operation. However, he stressed the need that Pakistan need to extend its efforts against ‘groups who have havens’ here and were operating against Afghan and US forces. So Pakistan should also direct its action against
inward and outward terrorism.

Questioned if Pak-Indian normalization of relations was also linked to peace efforts in Kabul as both the neighbours were important players in Afghanistan, Blinken said independent of
their relations, both Pakistan and India had ‘shared interest’ in peace and stability in Afghanistan.

He conceded that mutual interaction between Islamabad and New Delhi was important to improve their bilateral relations. He praised Pakistan for hosting a large number of Afghan
refugees for decades.

Asked about the internal rift among the Taliban, Blinken said he did not think anyone had “a crystal ball’ into their working, adding “we will see if they are ready to engage” in talks.
In his opening remarks the senior US official reaffirmed his country’s long standing and strong ties with Pakistan in various fields and efforts would be mounted to further build
on the recent visits of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif’s and the Army Chief Raheel Sharif to the United States.

“Meetings here in Islamabad have tried to build constructively on those visits and we look forward to convening the next round of the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue early next year and further advancing our shared interests in the security and prosperity in Pakistan and indeed in the wider region,” he said.

He said due to the economic reforms, Pakistan could attract foreign investors for making the investment. Blinken said his country would encourage Pakistan to streamline the registration process of NGOs and added that civil society organizations played an important role in
development of the society.

Welcoming the recent meeting in Bangkok between PM National Security Adviser Lt. Gen.(R) Nasir Janjua and Indian PM’s Adviser on National Security Ajit Davol, he said improvement in relations between two neighbours were good for peace and stability of the region.

“The United States supports any efforts that both parties can take to reduce tensions, increase stability and improve their relations,” he said.