WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump's South Asia strategy is moving in the right direction despite the challenge posed by Pakistan, the White House said today, ruling out any changes in the policy at least till it completes a year of its implementation.
"Despite the lack of progress that we've had on the sanctuary issue inside Pakistan, we do believe that the overall South Asia strategy is moving in the right direction," said a senior administration official on latest development in the region and an update on the South Asia policy.
The policy announced by Trump last August, the official said has bolstered the confidence of the US' Afghan partners.
"The additional military resources and authorities, particularly the more intensive air campaign has had an impact on the battlefield, removing enemy fighters and preventing them from being able to amass in large numbers, and thereby threaten provincial centres," the official said.
"However, unfortunately, the Taliban has resorted to these mass casualty attacks targeting Afghan civilians.
And I think these shameful attacks demonstrate how barbaric Taliban is and it only hardens our resolve to support our African partners," the official said on condition of anonymity.
The ultimate objective is to set the conditions for a peace settlement to end the war.
But at this stage, I think it seems clear that everyone's ready for peace talks except the Taliban," the official said.
Reiterating that the ball is in the Taliban court, the official said the Taliban needs to be willing to give up violence and become involved in a peace process and talk directly to the Afghan government.
"This is Afghan-owned, Afghan-initiated process. We are interested in seeing the Taliban talk directly to the Afghan government. We're not interested in talking to the Taliban directly. We are not going to have a separate piece so to speak," the official said.
"The Trump administration is going to support the Afghan government in what they are trying to do in terms of next steps we have to see.
I think that the battlefield conditions deny the Taliban the prospect of military victory and they will see the appeal of this open door that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Afghan people have proposed," he said.
"We would like to see peace talks, but we are certainly not desperate yet. We don't have the timelines for withdrawal like the previous administration. This administration been very clear that our strategy is driven by conditions on the ground," he said.
Asserting that the South Asia Policy is a comprehensive strategy not a military strategy alone, the official said clearly the military has been given a free hand in meeting the challenge posed by the terrorists but there is a clear interest in the political track, the lead for which is being taken by the Afghan government.
President Ghani has shown that he is serious and he's willing to engage the Taliban, he said.
"If there is no response, then we have to explore other ways to deny the Taliban the ability to achieve a military victory and to convince those reconciled with those who might be willing to enter into a legitimate political process.
They are certainly welcome and there will be a process for them to do so," the official said.
"If there are Taliban who are interested in coming to an accommodation with the Afghan government, there certainly be a path towards that.
The Afghan government has shown that it can and is willing to find a way to accommodate people who are willing to give up violence and become part of the process," he said.
Responding to a question, the official ruled out changing the South Asia strategy at this point.
"We need to give the strategy a little bit more time. We have seen some signs that we're moving in the right direction. We eroded the Taliban's ability to achieve on the battlefield what they hope to achieve last year. We will do the same this year," the official said.
"But I don't think that we can judge the efficacy of the strategy right now. We should give it more time. It deserves more time. All that said, we're constantly evaluating the policy, and doing adjustments here or there to the strategy," he said.