Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif on Sunday said the US President Donald Trump administration's “militaristic approach” in Afghanistan represented a failed policy, and called for talks with the Taliban to bring peace to the war-torn country.
Asif, who is heading to New York to participate in the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session, told The Wall Street Journal newspaper in Islamabad that he could not understand how the American military could succeed now in Afghanistan when it had not during the “surge” under the Obama administration with a force eight times as large as the one now planned.
The foreign minister instead called for peace talks with the Taliban, which, he said, could be arranged if Washington worked with countries in the region that have influence over the Taliban militant group.
“They are pursuing a folly, a strategy that has already failed,” the foreign minister said in an interview with the Journal. “Force will not solve any problem, it has not solved problems in the past.”
Asif said he would tell the UN members that “peace should return to this area and force is not the solution.”
On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also said that there could be no military solution to the Afghan conflict and called for efforts towards creating a political solution.
“I believe it is important in Afghanistan to invest in the conditions to create a political solution. I believe that is possible,” Guterres told reporters at the UN Headquarters in New York.
In his dispatch, the newspaper's correspondent, Saeed Shah, underscored that Pakistan's cooperation was vital to the effort to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan and extricating America from its longest war.
“The US and Pakistan are ostensible allies but have long suffered strained ties. Relations turned more confrontational after President Donald Trump accused Pakistan in August of providing a haven for terrorists and then threatening to withhold aid if there wasn't better cooperation,” the dispatch said.
Trump had said that a political settlement with elements of the Taliban was “perhaps” possible, but only after an effective US military campaign.
The foreign minister subsequently canceled a trip to the US for talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Islamabad also rejected a planned visit to Pakistan by the senior US official dealing with the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, Alice Wells.
Instead, the foreign minister toured the region, visiting US adversaries in China, Iran and Turkey, saying afterward that they agreed that a political solution was needed.
Asif said he would meet at the UN with his Russian counterpart to get Moscow on board with this plan.
“I think Americans should be more realistic and more pragmatic about their approach in Afghanistan,” Asif was quoted as saying.
“They have already lost more than 40 per cent of territory to the Taliban. How do you keep on fighting with them?”
The Trump administration plan would add up to 3,900 US soldiers to the 8,400 that the Pentagon says are already there, and allow them to fight the Taliban with freer rules of engagement. At its peak, under President Barack Obama, the US had over 100,000 soldiers there.
Tillerson said last month that the US strategy was to convince the Taliban to understand that they cannot win on the battlefield and “at some point, we have to come to the negotiating table and find a way to bring this to an end.”
Asif said now was the time for talks and that neighbours were willing to help. A four-country group intended to promote such talks ─ Pakistan, China, the US, and Afghanistan, which has not met for over a year, could be expanded to include other countries with influence over the Taliban, he said.
Pakistan's influence over the militant group had waned, he said, so other countries with contacts with the Taliban also needed to be involved, including Iran, China and Russia.
The Taliban have indicated that they are willing to talk to the US about a timetable for its withdrawal, but not to the Afghan government.
Khawaja Asif also questioned the US assertion that Pakistan allowed sanctuaries for Afghan militants.
“They don't need sanctuaries on our territory. They have plenty of territory which Americans have lost to them in Afghanistan during the last 15 years,” Asif said.
“This is scapegoating you know, nothing else.” The foreign minister said it was America's militaristic policy across the Muslim world that had inflamed much of the violence.
“There is chaos from Afghanistan to Libya, you tell what is the common denominator in this whole chaos,” Asif said. “Has American policy in this whole region, the Middle East and our region, brought peace dividends to anywhere?”
Meanwhile, Zeke Johnson, a senior director of programmes at Amnesty International USA, expressed his concern over the drone strike in Pakistan, saying “the last thing the US should be doing right now is expanding a global, secret killing programme.
By its own admission, the US government's use of drones has meant the deaths of civilians and there has been insufficient accountability.”
He said the “US must comply with the international law when it comes to the use of lethal force and any potentially unlawful strikes should be independently investigated."