US rules out mediating between Pakistan, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: The United States has ruled out mediating between Pakistan and Afghanistan, saying that it wants the neighbouring countries to work through their differences bilaterally.

At a Thursday afternoon news briefing, State Department spokesman John Kirby said that Pakistan and Afghanistan were quite capable of doing so because they had resolved their differences in the past as well.

Weeks of tensions on the Torkham border crossing led to clashes recently between Pakistani and Afghan troops, causing several deaths on both sides.

“We are obviously very concerned (and) want both sides to ratchet down the violence and begin a dialogue to try to reduce the tensions, keep the crossing open, and have it done peaceably,” Mr Kirby told the briefing.

“This isn’t the first time that we have seen clashes even at that crossing, and they have been able to work through it in the past and we are absolutely confident that, with moral courage on both sides, they can continue to work through it,” he added.

But when asked if the United States had reached out directly to Afghanistan and Pakistan to reduce these tensions, Mr Kirby said: “I can say that we’ve discussed it at high levels with both governments.”

The US official said he was not sure if the border clashes could also affect the Afghan reconciliation talks, which he said was the right approach for bringing peace to the war-ravaged country.

“I haven’t seen any practical effect of it to date. These clashes have only just popped up in recent days. But that aside, we still want to see the reconciliation process move forward,” he said.

Mr Kirby also rejected a mediatory role for the United States in restarting the reconciliation process. “We have not taken a mediation role, and we have talked about this before. This is an Afghan-led process. We obviously support it and we want to see it succeed,” he said.

“But this is [Afghan] President Ashraf Ghani’s initiative; he’s taking it on. We know he wants to get it back on track and we fully support him in that effort, but this is not for the United States mediating between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said the US official.

Mr Kirby said there were plenty of shared threats and common challenges between Afghanistan and Pakistan and plenty of reasons for them to look for ways to work together.

He noted that in the recent past, the two sides had made some progress in cross-border cooperation and communication and in counter-terrorism effo­rts. “So… it’s too soon to say… just be­­cause there’s been some of this that the whole reconciliation process should be just thrown out the window, or that the differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan are irreconcilable and therefore not worth continuing to pursue dialogue and cooperation,” Mr Kirby said. “We are just not there yet.”

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