Tillerson visits Afghanistan: ‘There’s Room For Taliban In Afghan Government, With Conditions’

“There’s Room For Taliban In Afghan Government, With Conditions”

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday, hoping to cement Donald Trump’s new South Asia strategy and ramp up political and military pressure in the 16-year-old war.

The Secretary of State said Monday there is a place for moderate elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan’s government as long as they renounce violence and terrorism and commit to stability. He also delivered a blunt warning to neighboring Pakistan, insisting Islamabad must step up action against terrorist groups that have found safe haven within its borders.

He also met Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other senior officials at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul.

Tillerson said the Taliban must understand that they will never win a military victory and should prepare to negotiate with the government. ”Clearly, we have to continue to fight against the Taliban, against others, in order for them to understand they will never win a military victory,” Tillerson told a small group of reporters allowed to accompany him from the Qatari capital of Doha. “And there are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. They don’t want their children to fight forever. So we are looking to engage with those voices and have them engage in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government.”

“There’s a place for them in the government if they are ready to come, renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence and being committed to a stable prosperous Afghanistan,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson outlined to Ghani and Abdullah the Trump administration’s new South Asia policy, which the president rolled out last month and views the region through a lens that includes Afghanistan as well as Pakistan and India, both of which he will visit later this week. The approach is heavy on combating and beating extremist groups in all three countries.

“We also want to work with regional partners to ensure that there are no threats in the region,” he said. “This is very much a regional effort as you saw. It was rolled out in the strategy itself, demanding that others deny safe haven to terrorists anywhere in the region. We are working closely with Pakistan as well.”

The visit follows one of Afghanistan’s bloodiest weeks this year in which more than 200 people including security forces and civilians were killed in suicide attacks on mosques and police and military compounds.

The attacks by both the Taliban and ISIL came as the US turned up military pressure in the conflict. “It’s safe to say that the wheels are turning when it comes to increased emphasis on [US] military action,” said Stephen Tankel, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington to The National.

“The military has more authority to attack the Taliban, air strikes have already increased considerably, another 4,000 US troops are heading to Afghanistan, and more CIA paramilitaries are going to join the fight,” he said.

The US is estimated to have 8,400 troops already in the country.

Tillerson will visit Islamabad on Tuesday and said he would be telling Pakistani officials that their cooperation in fighting extremists and driving them from hideouts on their territory is imperative to a good relationship with the U.S.

“It will be based upon whether they take action that we feel is necessary to move the process forward for both creating opportunity for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan but also ensuring a stable future Pakistan,” he said. “Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organizations that find safe haven inside of Pakistan. So we want to work closely Pakistan to create a more stable and secure Pakistan as well.”

He arrived in Afghanistan cloaked in secrecy and under heavy security. He had slipped out of Qatar in the pre-dawn hours and flew a gray C-17 military plane to Bagram, jettisoning his public schedule, which had him meeting with staffers at the U.S. Embassy in Doha.

Tillerson, a one-time private pilot, rode in the cockpit wearing a headset and chatting with the crew as the plane took off from the Al-Udeid Air Base outside Doha.

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