KABUL (Pajhwok): The United States and the international community are not going to abandon Afghanistan following the withdrawal of foreign forces, promises a top American diplomat.
US Deputy Chief of Mission to Afghanistan CDA Ian McCary held out the assurance in an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News.
“We intend to maintain our embassy and our assistance. And as President Biden said last week, we intend to stick with you. It will be different. But we are still committed to having a very strong partnership.”
McCary spoke on a wide range of topics, including President Ashraf Ghani’s recent visit to the US, Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process, the need for eradicating corruption and Taliban’s return to the negotiating table.
On peace parleys, he said: “I think this process represented a major opportunity and I think, unfortunately, one of the big disappointments has been that even as the talks continued over the months, levels of violence did not decrease.
“I know this was disappointing to the United States and it was even more disappointing to many Afghans and we have continued to call for a ceasefire,” the diplomat commented.
He said the US had repeatedly urged the Taliban to stop targeting killings and their military offensive, because these were incompatible with advancing the peace process.
“And I think, you know, we were — in addition to the Doha process — also working on possibly having a high-level conference in Istanbul,” the Deputy Chief of Mission said, adding other channels were also at work.
However, he regretted the failure of these efforts. “Unfortunately, nothing that we worked on with our international partners and with our partners in Afghanistan has so far succeeded in achieving reduction in violence that is necessary for peace.”
He hastened to explain: “But we don’t intend to stop our efforts, we intend to continue doing everything we can through diplomatic channels to create the conditions for meaningful peace talks to start again because we’re convinced that’s the only way to stop this violence.”
The long run is when the two sides can agree on a political settlement, according to McCary, who hoped that the Taliban would return to the negotiating table and realise that neither the US nor the rest of the world would accept a military conquest of Afghanistan.
Despite efforts, he acknowledged, reduction in violence did not happen. He still believed the reduction in violence was essential to make progress in peace talks, insisting that it must happen.
“We continue to urge the Taliban every day to stop the military offensive, stop conducting targeted killings and come back and sit down for sincere dialogue at the peace table,” he continued.
Asked about Ghani’s US visit, he said the US remained strongly committed to having a strong and productive relationship with the Afghan government and people.
The US intended to continue providing Afghanistan with development, economic, humanitarian and security assistance, he said, hailing Ghani’s visit as a great opportunity to underline and enforce all of these things.
It was the first time that Ghani and President Joe Biden had a chance to meet since the latter assumed office a few months ago. Against this backdrop, it was important to establish that personal connection.
He went on to stress the importance of Dr. Abdullah’s inclusion in the delegation that Ghani headed. One of the most important objectives for the US was to help advance the cause of unity among Afghan leaders, he elaborated.
Abdullah had an extremely important role to play as ahead of the High Council for National Reconciliation, the Deputy Chief of Mission noted.
Ghani and Abdullah had productive meetings in Washington, where they met congressional leadership, the Secretary of Defense and a number of other officials, he said.
He agreed that corruption in the Afghan government was definitely a big concern in Washington. He also referred to periodic reports on the issue by the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction.
“It’s a topic of high interest in the US Congress and elsewhere in the US government because, you know, understandably US taxpayers have spent a lot of money on development in Afghanistan and they want to be sure that this money is going to benefit the Afghan people…”
The problem was highlighted as a major priority during the president’s recent visit to Washington. “We know the Afghan government is aware of our concerns and these are concerns by the way that are shared by our international partners. It was a big topic during the pledging conference that took place in Geneva.”
In November, the international community pledged billions of dollars and continuing support for Afghanistan. But also built into that were some specific benchmarks for the Afghan government to meet in terms of increasing transparency and reducing systematic opportunities for corruption.
In response to a query, he said the US remained engaged with Pakistan at high levels. The discussions were focused on the role they wanted Pakistan to play in achieving peace in Afghanistan, the diplomat added.
“Now the Pakistanis say they do not want a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, they say that it’s not in their interest. They say that they support a peaceful solution, they support a political settlement and that they would not support an Islamic Emirate.
“And we believe that that is very much in Pakistan’s interests. And every time we talk to the Pakistanis about Afghanistan, we ask them to work with the international community and the Afghan, government to support the peace process and convince the Taliban to stop fighting and stop attacking civilians and instead to negotiate with sincerity, that’s been a very consistent message.”
Asked about America’s future role in the war-torn country, McCary replied Afghanistan was a sovereign nation. He urged Afghan leaders work closely together in a democratic process or within a democratic framework to map out their own future and their own destiny in a way that reflected the will of the Afghans.
“So, I think, when President Biden said that Afghans must decide their future, that’s exactly what he meant. It’s not for the United States or any other foreign power to tell Afghanistan how it’s future should be, that’s for the Afghan people to decide…”
McCary recalled President Biden’s statement that the US was not going to leave Afghanistan alone. He assured continued US assistance to beef up the Afghan economy and technical support for the Afghans’ ability to defend themselves.
He said the new chapter in US-Afghan relations was both different and similar to the previous chapter. “I think what the president and other senior officials mean when they talk about a new chapter is that we no longer have US forces stationed in Afghanistan.”
Obviously, he added, that changed the nature of the relationship between the two armed forces. For many years, he explained, Afghan forces — not American troops — had been doing the fighting on the ground.
The official mentioned the heavy investment made in the US embassy, something that reflected the heavy investment that Washington had made in its relationship with Kabul and the American commitment to the Afghans.
“We have very large programs to support education, especially education for Afghan girls and women, but more generally to support Afghan schools, universities and technical institutes.”
He also alluded to US support for Afghanistan’s health sector, saying the American had been working closely with the Ministry of Public Health to cope with the third wave of Covid-19.
The US is also supporting, Afghan law enforcement. civil aviation and other sectors.
In this new chapter, all of that cooperation is going to continue and is also expand. He reaffirmed America’s continued strong support for the Afghan national security and defense courses. Thousands of Afghan security force personnel have been trained by the US.
“I think a lot of training will continue and a lot of other types of support to allow the Afghan security forces to continue to function efficiently and carry out their mission to, to defend Afghan people and all of these types of assistance will be part of the new chapter.”
The US continued to have strong diplomatic cooperation with the Afghan government, including mutual support at the UN and other international for a, he said.
While talking to other countries around the world, including Afghanistan’s neighbours, the US often advocated on behalf of the Afghan government as a close friend and partner, he maintained.
Refusing to comment on any specific numbers of US troops staying in Afghanistan, he promised taking the necessary steps to keep the embassy safe and secure.
He thought the embassy’s security was necessary to ensure that “we can carry out our mission and keep our people and the embassy here and keep working on all of these assistance programmes that I mentioned earlier.
“A very important aspect of having an international presence in general in Afghanistan is the safety and security of the airport. If the airport isn’t safe, that’s going to be an issue of concern for many of us.”
He said the US had been in talks with various international partners, including Turkey, on making arrangements to ensure that the airport remained safe and functional in the future.
Reminded of social media videos of government buildings and offices being destroyed by the Taliban, the deputy ambassador said they were deeply troubled by such images.
“We’ve seen many (videos) of destruction of infrastructure, of the use of force often unrestricted, the way civilians have been displaced from their homes and their livelihoods.”
It was upsetting to watch the way government buildings and public infrastructure had been destroyed in the last few weeks. “I know it’s been upsetting to all Afghan people and we absolutely condemn it. We’ve been condemning it and we will continue to condemn it…”
He referred to the State Department spokesperson’s recent statement that the US was not going to accept any government in Afghanistan that was imposed by force.
A conference in Moscow, held a couple of months ago, the Russians, the Chinese and the Pakistanis said they would not stand for the restoration of an Islamic emirate either.
Afghanistan continued to suffer from serious security problems and obviously peace was a goal that had not yet been achieved yet, he admitted. “That’s very unfortunate, but I think it’s also clear that a great deal has been achieved in the past 20 years.”
In this context, he cited a surge in literacy rates increase, a fall in infant mortality, increased average lifespan, poverty reduction and empowerment of women and girls.
“We’ve seen Afghan women assume important roles in public life and these are all achievements. Of course, those achievements were brought about first through the will and determination of Afghans.”
He knew from talking to hundreds of Afghans that they were proud of these achievements and remained committed to preserving them.
Before the arrival of US and the coalition troops in 2001, he pointed out, Afghanistan essentially did not have national security and defense forces. There were only private militias and Taliban fighters.
Today, the envoy said, the country had large and strong and robust national security and defense forces that were well-trained and well-equipped, with a mandate to defend the country.
He believed the Afghan forces had the tools and equipment and training they needed to defend their homeland. “So these are all things that we do leave behind after 20 years. I agree that, unfortunately, peace has not yet been achieved but there has been again some progress on that front.”
Combating administrative graft was one of the keys to success and development in this country, said McCary, who claimed they had made clear in their discussions with the Taliban.
“And I know this is something that the Taliban here not only from us, but from all our international development partners that we have expectations, that everyone must respect the rights of Afghan women and girls.”
All Afghan people must continue to be respected, he stressed, promising to do everything they could through their support, assistance programmes and advocacy to ensure the progress made so far was defended.
Answering another query, he said the US had been in touch with all major media outlets, as well as organisations that represented the interests of Afghan journalists.
Troubled by attacks on Afghan journalists, he said they condemned such incidents. He insisted journalists had an essential role to play in advocating for the Afghan people.
“And certainly a free media is an essential pillar of democracy and civilization. We have supported Afghan, media over the years in many ways — through training and efficacy. And we intend to continue that.”
According to the Deputy Chief of Mission, now is the time for all leaders, who represent different communities in this, rich and diverse country, to put aside their differences and come together and cooperate.
He also called for all different Afghan communities and groups to work closely together. “We’ve been encouraged to see meetings, like the meeting that took place. I believe it was yesterday, at the Presidential Palace, the meeting of the HCNR leadership committee, which represents a very broad cross section of Afghan society. And we are hoping to see more concrete steps like that.”
McCary desired to see all of different interest groups working together and engaging in dialogue, hopefully productive peace talks with the Taliban. That was the way to prevent civil war, he concluded.