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Pakistan Agrees To Cooperate With The U.S. To Achieve Peace in Afghanistan

Khan said Monday that Trump wants Pakistan to use its influence to nudge the Taliban to participate in Afghan peace talks.

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Imran Khan, Pakistan, China
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a ceremony in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan renewed Wednesday his resolve to cooperate with the United States to achieve a political settlement with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan, now in its 18th year.

Khan made the remarks during a meeting with the visiting U.S. special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad.

“The prime minister reiterated Pakistan’s abiding interest in achieving peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan through political settlement,” Khan’s office said in a statement issued after the meeting.

Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday and held delegation level talks with senior foreign ministry officials before paying the courtesy call on Prime Minister Khan, officials said.

Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Pakistan”s Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen during talks in Beijing, China, VOA

The U.S. envoy’s visit followed President Donald Trump’s formal request for Khan’s help in finding a political solution to the Afghan conflict.

“U.S. leadership looked forward to working with Pakistan in furthering the shared goal of peace through a political settlement in Afghanistan,” the Pakistani statement quoted Khalilzad as saying.

The Trump administration has tasked the Afghan-born former U.S. ambassador to Kabul to persuade the Taliban to join an Afghan peace process for ending the protracted war.

U.S. and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of sheltering Taliban leaders and allowing them to orchestrate attacks inside Afghanistan. Islamabad rejects the charges.

Afghanistan, USA, Pakistan
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, center right, and U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad,center left, meet in Kabul. VOA

Khalilzad is on an 18-day trip to region, his third since taking office, and plans to visit Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, UAE and Qatar, where the Taliban maintains its so-called political office.

During his previous two trips to the region, Khalilzad also traveled to Qatar and held marathon meetings with Taliban representatives there. He has held talks with Afghan politicians inside and outside of the government in Kabul.

Taliban officials insist that in talks with the U.S. they are seeking the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO forces from the country before agreeing to join an intra-Afghan peace dialogue.

In a statement issued Tuesday, insurgent spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they “will not tolerate foreign occupying and military presence under any circumstance.”

Mujahid also dismissed reports that Khalilzad is discussing with the Taliban possible future political dispensation in Kabul and other related issues.

 

Taliban, Afghanistan, Pakistan
Taliban fighters are seen gathered in Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

 

“The formation of a government, establishing security and developing Afghanistan is a matter concerning the Afghans. No foreign occupying force has any legal right for determine the fate of Afghanistan, interfere in its matters or make comments as a proprietor,” said the Taliban spokesman.

Khalilzad has shared few details of his talks with the Taliban, though he said last month he was “cautiously optimistic” about achieving a peace deal.

Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have dipped to historic lows in recent years over allegations of supporting the Taliban and other militants in the region. President Trump’s letter to Khan on Monday was a rare positive development in the fragile bilateral ties.

Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, chosen to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command told Senators on Tuesday that Pakistan’s assistance is key to finding any solution in Afghanistan.

“It is in Pakistan’s long-term interest to have a government in Afghanistan that is stable that they can do business with. It will be hard to reach a settlement without some form of assistance from Pakistan,” McKenzie said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Donald Trump, democrats, government,, pakistan
U.S. President Donald Trump. VOA

Islamabad has long urged in talks with the U.S. that rival India’s growing influence in Afghanistan was a matter of concern for Pakistan. Pakistani security officials blame Indian intelligence operatives for supporting anti-state militants planning terrorist attacks in Pakistan from Afghan soil, charges both Kabul and New Delhi reject.

Also Read: U.S. President Donald Trump Seeks Pakistan’s Cooperation For Bringing Peace in Afghanistan

“I believe Pakistan knows very clearly that their assistance will be required to reach an end state in Afghanistan. I think the chance that we have is to make it attractive to them so that they see that it is in their best interest to do that,” noted the U.S. commander.

Khan said Monday that Trump wants Pakistan to use its influence to nudge the Taliban to participate in Afghan peace talks. (VOA)

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Soviet War in Afghanistan was No Less Than a ‘Hell’, Say Survivors

Friday marked the 30th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the memories are still fresh.

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Soviet War, Afghanistan
FILE - Tatyana Rybalchenko, who worked as a nurse during the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan between 1986 and 1988, holds a photo of her taken in June 1986 in Kabul, Afghanistan, during her interview in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 10, 2019. VOA

Sitting in her living room, 65-year-old Tatyana Rybalchenko goes through a stack of black-and-white photos from more than 30 years ago. In one of them, she is dressed in a nurse’s coat and smiles sheepishly at the camera; in another, she shares a laugh with soldiers on a road with a mountain ridge behind them.

The pictures don’t show the hardships that Rybalchenko and 20,000 Soviet women like her went through as civilian support staff during the Soviet Union’s 1979-1989 invasion of Afghanistan. Although they did not serve in combat roles, they still experienced the horrors of war.

As Russia on Friday marked the 30th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the memories are still fresh for the nurses, clerks and shopkeepers, predominantly young, single women who were thrust into the bloody conflict.

Rybalchenko enlisted on a whim. In 1986, she was 33, working in a dead-end nursing job in Kyiv, the capital of Soviet Ukraine, and was going through a breakup. One day, she joined a colleague who went to a military recruitment office. The recruiter turned to Rybalchenko and asked if she would like to work abroad — in Afghanistan.

She recalls that she was fed up with her life in Kyiv, “so I told him: ‘I’d go anywhere, even to hell!’ And this is where he sent me.”

Family and friends tried to talk her out of it, telling her that Afghanistan is where “the bodies are coming from.” But it was too late: She had signed the contract.

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FILE – In this undated photo, medics and nurses work to treat a casualty in a military hospital in Afghanistan. VOA

At least 15,000 Soviet troops were killed in the fighting that began as an effort to prop up a communist ally and soon became a grinding campaign against a U.S.-backed insurgency. Moscow sent more than 600,000 to a war that traumatized many young men and women and fed a popular discontent that became one factor leading to the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

Rybalchenko, who worked as a nurse at a military hospital in Gardez, was stunned by the many casualties — men missing limbs or riddled with shrapnel. But there was so much work that she found herself shutting off her emotions.

“At the end, I did not feel anything anymore. I was like a stone,” Rybalchenko said, shedding her normally perky persona.

Friendships helped, and she befriended a young reconnaissance officer, Vladimir Vshivtsev.

He once confided to her that he was not afraid of losing a limb, but he would not be able to live with an injury to his eyes. She recalled him saying “if I lose eyesight, I’ll do everything to put an end to it.”

In November 1987, the hospital was inundated with casualties from a Soviet offensive to open the road between Gardez and the stronghold of Khost, near the Pakistani border.

One of the wounded was Vshivtsev, and Rybalchenko saw him being wheeled into the ward with bandages wrapped around his head. She unwrapped the dressing and gasped when she saw the gaping wound on his face: “The eyes were not there.”

Afghanistan, Fintech
Vladimir Vshivtsev, a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, right, and Gen. Col. Boris Gromov, former Commander of the 40th Army in Afghanistan, greet each other during a meeting at the upper chamber of Russian parliament in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

She persuaded her superior to let her accompany him to a bigger hospital in Kabul as part of a suicide watch. She stayed friends with Vshivtsev, and he later became a leading activist in the Russian Society for the Blind. Decades later, he briefly served in the Russian parliament.

Raising awareness

Alla Smolina was 30 when she joined the Soviet military prosecutor’s office in Jalalabad near the Pakistani border in 1985. It wasn’t until 20 years later that Smolina started having nightmares about the war.

“The shelling, running away from bullets and mines whizzing above me — I was literally scared of my own pillow,” she said.

She put her memories on paper and contacted other women who were there, telling the stories of those who endured the hardships of war but who are largely absent from the male-dominated narratives.

She is trying to raise awareness of the role the Soviet women played in Afghanistan, believing they have been unfairly portrayed or not even mentioned in fiction and nonfiction written mostly by men.

The deaths of Soviet women who held civilian jobs in Afghanistan are not part of the official toll, and Smolina has written about 56 women who lost their lives. Some died when a plane was shot down by the Afghan mujahedeen, one was killed when a drunken soldier threw a grenade into her room, and one woman was slain after being raped by a soldier.

In an era when the concept of sexual harassment was largely unfamiliar in the Soviet Union, the women in the war in Afghanistan — usually young and unmarried — often started a relationship to avoid unwanted attention from other soldiers.

“Because if a woman has someone, the whole brigade won’t harass you like a pack of wolves,” Rybalchenko said. “Sometimes it was reciprocal, sometimes there was no choice.”

She said she found boyfriends to “protect” her.

Denied war benefits

While the war grew unpopular at home, Soviet troops and support staff in Afghanistan mostly focused on survival rather than politics. While Afghans largely saw Moscow’s involvement as a hostile foreign intervention, the Soviets thought they were doing the right thing.

“We really believed that we were helping the oppressed Afghan nation, especially because we saw with our own eyes all the kindergartens and schools that the Soviet people were building there,” Smolina said.

After Rybalchenko came home, she could hardly get out of bed for the first three months, one of thousands with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.

When she asked officials about benefits for veterans and other personnel in Afghanistan, she faced hostility and insults. She said one told her: “How do I know what you were actually up to over there?”

In 2006, Russian lawmakers decided that civilians who worked in Afghanistan were not entitled to war benefits. Women have campaigned unsuccessfully to reinstate them.

Rybalchenko eventually got an apartment from the government, worked in physiotherapy and now lives in retirement in Moscow, where her passion for interior decorating is reflected by the exotic bamboo-forest wallpaper in her home.

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Smolina, who lives in Sweden, is wary of disclosing all the details about her own Afghan experiences after facing a backlash from other veterans about her publications.

“Our society is not ready yet to hear the truth. There is still a lingering effect from the harsh Soviet past,” she said. “In Soviet society, you were not supposed to speak out.” (VOA)