The US has made clear its new policy on Afghanistan looks to the whole region to bring stability to that nation in a move away from relying mostly on Pakistan as Washington has during the 16 years it has been mired there. “A central tenet of our new South Asia strategy is the recognition that Afghanistan’s security and stability are tied to the security and stability of the entire region,” Michele Sison, the US Deputy Permanent Representative, told the Security Council on Monday during a debate on Afghanistan.
Unveiling the new US policy on Afghanistan last month, US President Donald Trump said a “critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India”. He added that he wanted India “to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development”.
The very use of “South Asia” by Trump as well as by US diplomats to describe the new strategy and policy that primarily about Afghanistan underscores the new approach.
Sison also set out firmly the other key element of the new Afghanistan policy: a commitment to a political settlement that could include the Taliban. “The United States’ new regional strategy for South Asia is also well-timed and makes clear that, ultimately, the US and the UN share the same overarching goal in Afghanistan: a durable political settlement that leads to lasting peace.
“We call on all regional governments to support the Afghan government and to do what they can to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table,” she added. Sison, however, declared: “Our message to the Taliban and their supporters is clear: you cannot win on the battlefield. The only path to peace is through negotiations. You must abandon violence, cut ties with international terrorism, and accept the Afghan constitution.”
Trump in his policy speech had warned Islamabad that “it has much to lose by continuing to harbour criminals and terrorists”. Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani welcomed the new the new strategy saying it “has generated new hope among our people across the country” and Afghans are optimistic that “that finally the threats of terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan and the wider region will be tackled appropriately”.
He said: “The prospect of peace with the Taliban is dependent on genuine and constructive regional engagement in support of an Afghan-led process.” In a reference to the possible outcome from a stern stand of the US against supporting terrorism, Rabbani said: “In this regard, we believe a paradigm shift could profoundly impact peace efforts with the Taliban in a positive way.”
But he also accused the Taliban of cooperating with the Islamic State in the massacre in Mirza Ulang village in Sar-e-Pul province and the attacks on mosques in Kabul and Herat. Rabbani said that Afghanistan had been “on the receiving-end of provocative actions, including continuous violations across the Durand Line” by Pakistan.
Asked after the Council meeting about Trump’s new policy, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s Special Representative for Afghan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, told reporters that the US gave “clarity” to the peace process in “seeking a political solution”.