Elements of the Taliban who are willing to lay down arms and participate in peaceful negotiations have a place in the Afghan government, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday.
After meeting with top Afghan officials at Bagram Air Base, Tillerson reiterated the Trump administration’s aim to deny the Taliban a military victory in Afghanistan but to also welcome its moderate elements into a reconciliation process.
“Clearly, we have to continue to fight against the Taliban, against others, in order for them to understand they will never win a military victory,” Tillerson told reporters reporters traveling with him during a week-long overseas trip, according to the Associated Press. “And there are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. They don’t want their children to fight forever.”
“So we are looking to engage with those voices and have them engage in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government,” he added.
Tillerson’s comments on potential Taliban negotiations were part of a broader outline of U.S. strategy for South Asia, which the Trump administration rolled out last month. Tillerson told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other senior officials that the U.S. plans to engage India and Pakistan in an effort to combat terrorism in the region. (RELATED: Trump’s Strategy Has Already Caused ‘Immense Change’ On Afghan Battlefield, Prez Says)
“This is very much a regional effort as you saw,” Tillerson said. “It was rolled out in the strategy itself, demanding that others deny safe haven to terrorists anywhere in the region. We are working closely with Pakistan as well.”
As the U.S. and Afghanistan attempt to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table through military force, the administration is putting heavier diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to hunt down extremists within its own borders. Tillerson, who is visiting Islamabad on Tuesday, said he will emphasize to Pakistani leaders that a good relationship with the U.S. is contingent on Pakistan’s willingness to cooperate on anti-terror strategy.
“Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organizations that find safe haven inside of Pakistan,” he said. “So we want to work closely Pakistan to create a more stable and secure Pakistan, as well.”
Tillerson’s unannounced stop at Bagram was a prelude to high-profile meetings with senior leaders in Pakistan and India later this week. Both countries, bitter rivals who have fought several wars since the partition of British India in 1947, are critically important to the administration’s South Asia strategy.
The U.S. is particularly eager to see India play a larger role in Afghanistan through investments in security and infrastructure, a move that could alienate Pakistan, which is wary of growing Indian power in Kabul.
On Monday, Tillerson said New Delhi could increase its influence by creating jobs and the “right environment for the future of Afghanistan.”
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