The Trump administration should “shake things up” and hit terrorist groups inside Pakistan, a top former American diplomat has said, identifying the Taliban sanctuaries in the country as a “big problem” for Afghanistan.
The remarks came as the US dropped a massive bomb - the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used by Americans in a conflict - near the Pakistan border in Afghanistan’s Nanagarh province.
The US said the bomb targeted a tunnel complex of Islamic State-Khorasan, a regional affiliate of the terror group.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who served as the US ambassador to the United Nations and Afghanistan in the Bush administration, said the terrorist sanctuaries inside Pakistan “should not be accepted as (just) sanctuaries”.
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The US and NATO forces were being attacked by terrorists hiding in those sanctuaries and “if we are attacked from those places... They would be legitimate targets for a response,” Khalilzad said during a discussion at the Hudson Institute, an American think-tank, on Thursday in Washington.
Khalilzad, who had hosted Donald Trump for his first foreign policy speech during his presidential campaign, said, “Perhaps we have to do something to shake things up.”
He called for changing the balance on the ground from the one of stalemate that has favoured the Taliban to the one that favours the Afghan government and the coalition forces.
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“I am encouraged by what is going on in terms of the review - to weaken the adversaries and strengthen the government, to strengthen it not only militarily but also economically and politically, but also to review the policy towards Pakistan, because I think one of the big problems of Afghanistan is the policies of Pakistan: the sanctuary policies,” he said.
Robin Raphel, a former assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, felt the US should not walk away from the region at this point.
Raphel, however, opposed the idea of an “all-out war” against Pakistan. “In my view, at the end of the day there has to be a negotiated political solution in Afghanistan, which would undoubtedly include some of the conservative elements including the Taliban in the government,” she said.
Hussain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US and the director, South and Central Asia, at the institute, who moderated the discussion, said Taliban are irreconcilable, a sentiment shared by Khalilzad, who said the alliance between the Taliban and Pakistan was the main problem.
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“You cannot have reconciliation, if the insurgency feels that time is on its side. You cannot have a successful negotiation if there are safe sanctuaries. You cannot have successful negotiations if they feel that the Americans are going to leave,” Khalilzad said.
He also suggested ways to deal with the issue. “One, the military balance has to change in favour of the Afghan government. Two, Pakistan has to confront with the choices.
“If we are attacked from bases in another country, we have the right to defend ourselves. It is a principle of international law. We are there on the basis of a UN Security Council resolution and at the invitation of the Afghan government. We should not be accepting a safe sanctuary. We ought to make that very very clear to Pakistan,” he said.
“I hope that (National Security Adviser Lt Gen) H R McMaster makes that point clear when he sits across the table when he is in Islamabad,” he said, but added that Pakistan’s “legitimate interests” should also be respected.
The discussion was held in the backdrop of the Trump administration reviewing its policies to break the stalemate in Afghanistan.
“Decisions made about policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan will have a crucial impact on the outcome of the global war on terrorism and Islamist extremism,” Haqqani said.