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Pakistan continue to use Taliban as hedge against India, says top American commander

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A top American commander on Tuesday told US lawmakers that Pakistan’s policy seems to be unchanged and it continues to use the Taliban as a hedge against India. Notably, the statement comes days after US President Donald Trump sought Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s help in the Afghan peace process.

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Marine Corps Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie Jr told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that he did not see much of a change in Pakistan’s behaviour towards Afghanistan or its stand against terrorist groups.

McKenzie further said, “Despite Pakistan’s positive rhetoric in support of the South Asia Strategy, violent extremist organisations or VEOs operate along its border with Afghanistan.” “While Pakistan has conducted some operations against VEOs in the country, they must continue to expand these operations and remain aggressively engaged,” he added.

“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 fulfil. Pakistan must leverage their influence over the Taliban leadership to help compel them to come to the table for reconciliation negotiations,” he noted.

“Pakistan’s action or inaction, as it relates to stability in Afghanistan, has often led to US’s frustration,” he said, adding that stability in the South Asia region remains the most important mutual strategic interest for both the US and Pakistan. “We must continue to engage with the Pakistani leadership to realise how we can achieve this mutual interest,” McKenzie stated.

“Pakistan could play a key role in facilitating talks between the Taliban and government of Afghanistan,” he said adding, “I would welcome that development. At this time, however, Pakistan does not appear to be using the full extent of its influence to encourage the Taliban to come to the table.”

“We continue to see the Taliban being utilised as a hedge against India rather than as part of a stable, reconciled Afghanistan,” McKenzie told the lawmakers.

Earlier, President Trump sent a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, requesting Pakistan’s full support to the US-led Afghan peace process and Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s upcoming trip to the region. President Trump also recognised that Pakistan has the ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory.

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