Hours after Pak Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi assured Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad of his full support, a top American general told lawmakers that Pakistan in the last few years has not shown any indication of being a serious partner in the Afghan peace process.
“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 centered in Afghanistan,” Marine Corps Lt. Gen Kenneth McKenzie Jr. told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing for Commander of US Central Command or CENTCOM.
“It is in Pakistan's long-term interest to have a government in Afghanistan that is stable, and that they can do business with. So I think Pakistan has not shown indications, by and large over the last few years, of being a serious partner in this regard,” McKenzie said.
“Probably 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 interest to do that,” McKenzie said responding to a question from Senator Mazie Hirono.
“When you use words like attractive to them, that means that they want something from us in return for any kind of a positive role in bringing about a reconciliation, which by the way reconciliation in Afghanistan means that the Taliban will have a role to play, a major role to play in the further governance of Afghanistan,” Hirono asked.
“I believe that it does,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie told lawmakers that he does not see much of a change in the behavior of Pakistan towards Afghanistan or taking strong actions against terrorist groups.
Despite Pakistan’s positive rhetoric in support of the South Asia Strategy, violent extremist organizations (VEOs) operate along its border with Afghanistan, he said. While Pakistan has conducted some operations against VEOs in Pakistan, they must continue to expand these operations and remain aggressively engaged.
“Taking concrete steps that deny VEO safe havens in Pakistan, as well as VEO freedom of movement from Pakistan to Afghanistan, remains an important ask that Pakistan needs to fulfill. Pakistan must leverage their influence over Taliban leadership to help compel them to come to the table for reconciliation negotiations,” McKenzie said.
“It is important to remember that we are asking Pakistan to focus a significant fraction of their national power away from what they perceive to be an existential threat,” he told the lawmakers.
“Yet, Pakistan has national interests it wants addressed in any future political settlement in the region, including a politically stable Afghanistan,” he said adding that the US CENTCOM will continue to support Department of State as they work towards a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Afghanistan which includes ensuring that Islamabad’s equities are acknowledged in any future agreement.
Pakistan’s action or inaction as it relates to stability in Afghanistan has often led to US’s frustration. Stability in the South Asia region remains the most important mutual strategic interest for both the US and Pakistan, he said. “We must continue to engage with Pakistani leadership to realize how we can achieve this mutual interest,” he added.