London: India as a key regional player and ally of the US and its history of investments in Afghanistan could have a positive impact on the future of the country now under Taliban control, a US State Department spokesperson has said here.
In an interview with PTI ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks this week, Zed Tarar reiterated US President Joe Biden's message that the war in Afghanistan had achieved its central mission to eliminate the Al Qaeda terror network behind the attacks on September 11, 2001.
Now, the focus is on working with "like-minded partners and democracies", such as India, to look towards the next chapter of supporting the people of Afghanistan.
"India being a regional ally has a role to play; and the humanitarian role and previous investment role is one that could have a positive impact on the future of Afghanistan, said Tarar, the London-based Hindu/Urdu spokesperson for the US State Department.
India as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has a role to play. We are in close consultations in New York, New Delhi and Washington with India on this issue, he said.
The US forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan ahead of the August 31 deadline, at the end of an unprecedented airlift to evacuate over 100,000 people by air from the Afghan capital Kabul.
On some of the international voices questioning the timing and manner of the withdrawal, Tarar was categorical that it was time for the US to end the war.
I think what we have to be clear on is that the United States had an objective in Afghanistan and that was to eliminate Al Qaeda. We've completed that objective as of many years ago. We've also trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan forces over the last 20 years at a cost of over a trillion dollars. This was the time now to end the war in Afghanistan and remove US and allied forces from the country, he said.
As President Biden has said, there was never going to be a perfect time to do this. We were never going to have perfect conditions on the ground, he said, adding that the US President was determined not to hand over the war to the next incumbent in the White House.
On the question of having to work with the Taliban in the future, the official said it was still early days as the US wants the Taliban to live up to its promises, also flagging the group's designation as a terror outfit under US law.
At this time, it is very early days to say one way or the other whether we can or cannot work with the Taliban. We will have to see over time. Our interests align on the ISIS-K [terror group] issue, whether we can work together or not, is hard to say. I have to also point out that the Taliban are a designated terrorist group under US laws and the State Department executive branch will follow all federal regulations in dealing with the Taliban, he said.
With reference to the other player in the region, Pakistan, the US official noted that the country has a role to play in "promoting a stable, secure Afghanistan".
"We understand Pakistanis have said quite clearly that they want to see a peaceful Afghanistan, in which human rights are respected, and we hope that continues to be the position," he said.
Asked about the wider terror threat in the region and fears that the troop withdrawal has made the region more volatile, he reiterated that the US reserves the right to take any further action necessary against international terrorism.
However, the focus must now also be on the terror threats of the next decade and beyond.
Tarar said: The United States takes the threat from international terror very seriously and we reserve the right to retaliate against and dismantle terrorist networks wherever we find them. The truth is, at this point, the new threat that we face is not emanating from Afghanistan but from Africa.
The threats we are monitoring are not 2001 threats but today's threats, in 2021. And, we are also looking at what the next 10 years of threats would be. To only look at Afghanistan and ignore the rest of the world is a mistake.
In this context, he flagged the Islamic State (ISIS) network in the Sahel region of Africa as the Number One threat being closely monitored by the US and its G7 partners.