US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson paid an unexpected visit to Afghanistan on Monday where he discussed a range of issues with President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah and made it clear that Pakistan needs to take action to undermine the support the Taliban and other terrorist organizations receive in Pakistan.
Addressing some members of the press after his meeting with the National Unity Government (NUG) leaders at Bagram Airfield outside Kabul, Tillerson said he felt it was important for him to visit Afghanistan while in South Asia – particularly in the wake of the recently announced South Asia policy by the Trump administration.
“I thought it was very important to stop here in Afghanistan coming to the South Asia region as part of the recently announced South Asia policy and strategy that President Trump has put forth.”
Included in the meeting was the US’s envoy to Kabul Hugo Llorens and the commander of US-Forces and NATO in Afghanistan General John Nicholson.
He said: “I think the US has made it clear in terms of our support for Afghanistan, support for a sovereign, unified, and democratic Afghanistan, charting a path to peace, prosperity, and self-reliance. It is imperative at the end that we are denying safe haven to any terrorist organizations or any extremists to any part of this – the world.”
He said the US wants to work with regional partners to ensure that there are no threats in the region and that the strategy is a regional effort.
“So we’re demanding others also deny safe haven to terrorists anywhere in the region. We are working closely with Pakistan in that regard as well,” as well.
He went on to say that Ghani had assured him of his commitment to bringing reforms and to fighting corruption.
According to him discussions were also held on the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.
“It’s very important that those elections go forward as well. And finally, we discussed regional developments and agreed on the vital importance of all regional stakeholders to work with us, work with the United States, but also work with our other partners, the NATO partners and others who take a great interest in this region, to fight against terrorists, fight against insurgents, to support peace and stability for Afghanistan,” he said.
But he made it clear that a lot of hard work lies ahead and that there are many challenges to be overcome.
“The United States and our partners here in Afghanistan are committed to seeing this through,” he said.
Tillerson, who is in Pakistan for talks on Tuesday, was emphatic that Pakistan needs to take action “to undermine the support that the Taliban receives and the other terrorist organizations receive in Pakistan.”
He reiterated the fact that the US’s strategy is a conditions-based approach, which in turn means their relationship with Pakistan will also be conditions based.
He said this was not only about peace efforts in Afghanistan but that it was also to ensure a secure and stable Pakistan.
Pakistan needs to “take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they’re confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organizations that find safe haven inside of Pakistan. And so we want to work closely with Pakistan to create a more stable and secure Pakistan as well,” he said.
On a more positive note he said that considering the current situation in Afghanistan, the country has made substantial strides in terms of “creating a much more vibrant population, a much more vibrant government, educational systems, a larger economy. And so there are opportunities to strengthen the foundations for a prosperous – a prosperous Afghanistan society.”
But he said it was clear the fight against Taliban needs to continue and that the insurgent group needs to know it will never win “a military victory”.
He also stated that the US believes there are some sectors of the Taliban that do not want the war to continue forever – “they 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.
“There’s a place for them in the government if they’re ready to come renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence, and being committed to a stable, prosperous Afghanistan,” he said.
He also said that the US believes India has a very important and positive role to play in the process to achieve a peaceful, stable Afghanistan.
Tillerson is on a five-nation South Asian tour and is expected to hold talks in Islamabad on Tuesday. He will then travel to India, where he will meet with high-ranking Indian officials.