WASHINGTON: It is important to ‘enlist’ Pakistan for defeating terrorists in Afghanistan, says a senior US general nominated to head US and Nato troops in that country.
A transcript released on Friday also cites Lt Gen John William Nicholson as telling the US Senate Armed Services Committee that Pakistan’s military operations in Fata were “critical to defeating insurgency”.
The general appeared before the committee on Thursday for his confirmation hearing and a positive response from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers indicated that he would be promoted to the rank of a four-star general and confirmed.
Gen Nicholson says military operation in Fata has reduced militants’ ability to use Pakistani territory as safe haven
In a written response to the questions sent to him before the hearing, Gen Nicholson acknowledged that Pakistan’s ongoing counter-terrorism operations in Fata had reduced the militants’ ability to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven for terrorism and base of support for the insurgency in Afghanistan.
“Improved coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan along their shared border remains important to sustaining the momentum of the coalition forces’ counter-terrorism operations and to improve border security,” he added.
Gen Nicholson noted that Pakistan continued to publicly express a desire for reconciliation talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan but he also stressed the need for consistency in Pakistan’s strategy.
“Pakistan must take persistent action against the Taliban, particularly the Haqqani Network,” he said, while noting Pakistan’s pressure on the Taliban combined with its support to the reconciliation process were “mutually reinforcing, and when combined, will help reduce the violence in Afghanistan”.
Asked what was his understanding of the status of the reconciliation talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Gen Nicholson said that it was an Afghan-led effort which was recently re-started with a quadrilateral meeting with Pakistan, the US, and China in mid-January.
He noted that the talks, initiated last summer, were stalled in late July with the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death. Since then, the process has stalled as Mullah Mansour seeks to consolidate power and Afghanistan and Pakistan work on increasing their trust in each other’s intentions, he added.
But the recent quadrilateral talks were “a great leap forward and should result in a roadmap for future talks,” the general said. “I see reconciliation as the path towards a negotiated settlement that brings about the end of conflict in Afghanistan.”
Gen Nicholson said that if confirmed, he would work to improve the capacity to track and disrupt terrorist financing originating in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.
“Future efforts need to be focused on targeting sources of terrorist funding and providing evidence to support criminal indictments and law-enforcement prosecutions,” he said.
Responding to a question from the committee’s chairman, Senator John McCain, the general that the presence of terrorist safe havens in Fata had been one of the principal challenges.
“It’s a sanctuary that our enemies, in particular the Haqqani Network, have enjoyed inside Pakistan,” he said. He said that encouraging Pakistan to go after those sanctuaries and building up defence capacity of the Afghans forces were key to bringing down violence to a manageable level.