WASHINGTON: A senior US general has informed Congress that Pakistan knows very clearly there can be no peace in Afghanistan without their assistance and the United States has to make it “attractive” for them to cooperate.
Lt Gen Kenneth F. McKenzie, the next commander of the US Central Command, also said at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the death toll of Afghan security forces was unsustainable and that’s why a peace deal was needed.
“Their losses have been very high. They are fighting hard, but their losses are not going to be sustainable unless we correct this problem,” Lt Gen McKenzie told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senator Mazie Keiko Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, introduced the Pakistan factor in the debate when she asked the general why he believed Pakistan had a role in the Afghan peace process. “Are there any indications that Pakistan wishes to play that kind of a role?” the senator asked.
“I do believe that any solution in Afghanistan is going to require the assistance of Pakistan. It has to be a regional solution, not just a solution centred in Afghanistan,” Gen McKenzie replied.
He said Pakistan would be interested in playing this role because “it’s in Pakistan’s long-term interests to have a government in Afghanistan that is stable, that they can do business with”.
But Gen McKenzie also acknowledged that Pakistan has “not shown indications, by and large, over the last few years, of being a serious partner in this regard”.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was meeting Pakistani leaders to find some way forward, he said, noting that “it will be hard to reach a settlement without some form of assistance in Pakistan”.
“And you say that Pakistan has still not acknowledged that it has a potential major role to play,” Senator Hirono asked.
“Pakistan knows very clearly that their assistance will be required to reach an end state in Afghanistan. I think the task that we have is to make it attractive to them so that they see that it is in their best interests to do that,” Gen McKenzie replied.
“You use the words like attractive to them that means they will want something from us in return,” asked the senator. She also asked if the general believed the Taliban too have a major role in a future setup in Afghanistan.
“I believe that it does,” said Gen McKenzie while responding to her question about Pakistan. The Taliban, he reminded the lawmaker, still had around 60,000 in Afghanistan, compared to a US-led Nato force of about 16,000.
In a written statement shared with Dawn, the White House National Security Council also underlined some of the points raised by the general.
It noted that in a letter he sent to Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier this week, President Donald Trump sought “Pakistan’s full support” for the Afghan peace process and for Ambassador Khalilzad’s reconciliation mission.