The United States is ready to open the door for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, said US Ambassador to Islamabad Richard Olson in a policy speech delivered at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad on Wednesday.
The Afghan Taliban could be part of Afghanistan’s future if they met conditions to ensure long-term peace and stability in the war-torn country, he went on to say.
The remarks by Ambassador Olson reiterated recent American emphasis on pursuing reconciliation in Afghanistan instead of its usual method of using military might.
In this context, Olson said their new office in Qatar could be used for negotiations between the Afghan High Peace Council and representatives of the Taliban.
“The end result of any process must be that the Taliban end violence, break ties with al Qaeda and accept Afghanistan’s Constitution. If this happens, we believe the Taliban can be a part of Afghanistan’s future,” he remarked.
Ambassador Olson also called for the US and Pakistan to work together to facilitate a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, noting, “For the sake of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region, Pakistan’s full support to an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process is needed now.”
Olson acknowledged mistakes were committed by the US in 1989 when it abandoned the region and he insisted that his country would not repeat them when foreign forces pull out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
“The United States is committed to a cooperative and long-term partnership with Pakistan, broader than any one issue and centered on areas of mutual interests. The US relationship with Pakistan is not shaped solely by our commitments and responsibilities in Afghanistan,” he continued.
“[The year] 2014 is not 1989,” he asserted, “The United States recognizes the mistakes of the past, and will not disengage from the region.”
In a question-and-answer session, Ambassador Olson refrained from making comments on US drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal belt. He also avoided speaking on Pakistan’s nuclear programme. “I think such issues must not be discussed through public diplomacy,” he replied, when asked to comment on apprehensions that the US wanted to de-nuclearise Pakistan.
Ambassador Olson also used the occasion to point out US assistance to Pakistan in the fields of energy, economic development, education and health as a tangible sign of his country’s long-term investment in Pakistan’s future.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2013.