KABUL - *The Taliban are the stumbling block to the peace process, the Trump administration alleged on Friday, ruling out direct talks with it unless the militant leaders engaged with the elected Afghan government.*
In an apparent response to a recent letter from the Taliban to the US, the Trump team also ruled out withdrawing troops from Afghanistan -- a pre-condition set by the rebels for talks.
America’s senior diplomat for South and Central Asia said the US was in Afghanistan at the request of its government and people would be stay there to make sure the country did not become a safe haven for terrorists again.
“The recent Taliban letter to the people of the United States, I believe, misses the point. For eight years, the US has been prepared to support a peace process, but we cannot be a substitute for the Afghan people in the Afghan government negotiations with the Taliban,” Alice Wells remarked.
Speaking at the US Institute of Peace, a Congress-supported think-tank, she said: “The Taliban were at war with the Afghan people long before US military operations began in 2001. Now obviously the US has a direct interest in the resolution of this conflict and the Taliban have frequently stated the need for all foreign troops to depart Afghanistan is a precondition for negotiations.
“We are in Afghanistan as a guest of a sovereign Afghan government that's recognized by the UN and international community, with our presence enshrined in the strategic partnership agreement and a bilateral security agreement.”
She added the US would continue its mission so long as the independent Afghan government agreed to host and work with the Americans.
To a question, she said the Taliban could not expect direct talks with the US as had happened in the case of North Korea. There was no comparison between North and South Korea and Afghanistan , the diplomat argued.
Wells noted North and South Korea had spoken to each other in advance of the president’s offer to engage in the conversation.
“So, what we're looking for in Afghanistan is a fundamental recognition that in an insurgency, the insurgents and the government that is ruling need to engage in a conversation with one another as well as with other interested parties to that settlement. We have been very consistent in this approach,” Wells said.
President Ashraf Ghani recently concluded the second Kabul Process conference, laying out some important principles in his remarks about implementation of the peace process. That would require the support of the international community.
There was no way to walk away from Afghanistan even in a time of peace. “But I can certainly assure you we understand how difficult it is and how essential it is to the success of the overall effort.
“Certainly it's only going to be when we see the success of the stabilization of Afghanistan that we in the international community can draw the confidence that the level of our presence is not required,” Wells said.
The Afghan government’s ability to manage its own security and territory in a responsible fashion would all feed into the international assessment of how to structure future relations with Afghanistan , Wells said.
Accusing the Taliban of being indifferent to the Afghan people, she believed it was time for the conflict to end. “There's a way to end this conflict. There's a will to end this conflict. There's international support to this. It’s the Taliban who are the stumbling block to peace.”
The diplomat said it was up to the Taliban leaders to respond to this serious offer of talks from Ghani. The US supported Ghani’s move and was prepared to facilitate it, the official explained.
Wells said when it came to the United States, its conditions-based South Asia strategy ensured the Taliban could not win on the battlefield, but it recognized that a resolution to the conflict would be through a negotiated settlement.