By Prarthana Mitra
Reflecting that a lack of commitment had offset the South Asia peace process by 40 years, the US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday, sent a strong message to Pakistan. While addressing reporters at the Pentagon, he said it was time for “every responsible nation” to support the peacemaking efforts by the United Nations, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and others trying to maintain peace in the region, especially in ending the Afghan war.
“It’s time for everyone to get on board, support the United Nations; support Prime Minister Modi’s, (Afghan) President (Ashraf) Ghani and all those who are trying to maintain peace and make for a better world here,” Mattis said as he welcomed Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for talks.
“We are on that track. It is diplomatically led as it should be, and we’ll do our best to protect the Afghan people,” he added.
India too faces insurgents from at least two regional rivals at its borders. It shares a direct conflict with Pakistan over the occupation and autonomy of Kashmir. The UN had urged for a speedy resolution of the dispute which has completely destabilise the northern-most state, ever since the Partition in 1947. India, like the US, has also accused Pakistan of not doing enough to weed out terrorists including those responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai attack.
Letter from Trump to Khan
Mattis’s statement comes as a response to media questions about this letter during his welcome address to Sitharaman who is visiting Washington for talks. “We’re looking for every responsible nation to support peace in the sub-continent and across this war in Afghanistan that’s gone on now for 40 years,” he further told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday.
Afghan peace process at a glimpse
Trump’s letter presents a radically different approach to Pakistan which has also been on the receiving end of his criticism. While it comes after the just-concluded G20 summit and the pledges to strengthen security cooperation therein, the shift in attitude must also be viewed in light of the Moscow-led conference last month, aimed at ending the Afghan war.
Delegates from the US, Iran, China, Pakistan and five former Soviet republics in Central Asia were invited to share the table with representatives of the Taliban group, that has been waging an armed rebellion in Afghanistan since 9/11. India also engaged in an informal level, trusting Russia to not to go against New Delhi’s interests.
The US, in the meantime, was setting the stage for this showdown over the past five years with visits to Taliban’s Doha office, which confirmed in October that the US had agreed to demilitarise Afghanistan and thus bring an end to the 17-year-old war.
The Trump administration, especially in the recent months, has further intensified its efforts to seek a negotiated settlement of the Afghan skirmish, where the US has lost over 2,400 soldiers since 2001, when it invaded the country after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Pakistan and US relations so far
According to Trump, however, Pakistan posed more barriers than bridges in the path towards resolution. In August, while announcing his Afghanistan and South Asia policy in August last year, Trump had hit out at Pakistan for providing safe haven to “agents of chaos” that kill Americans in Afghanistan and warned Islamabad that it has “much to lose” by harbouring terrorists.
In September, he had cancelled USD 300 million in military aid to Islamabad for not doing enough against terror groups like the Haqqani Network and the Taliban active on its soil.
Attacking Islamabad for not doing a “damn thing” for the US war on terrorism despite billions of dollars in US aid, he further alleged in a televised interview last month, that Islamabad had helped al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden hide near its garrison city of Abbottabad.
He then launched a relentless Twitter tirade, further straining ties between the two nations. Imran Khan, having none of it, called him out for casting false aspersions about Pakistan’s role in the region’s exacerbating terrorism, and “corrected” his attempt to scapegoat Pakistan for America’s failure in the war on terror.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.