WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a phone call with Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, discussed the current situation in Afghanistan, regional security issues and the bilateral defence ties, the Pentagon said.
During the phone call on Monday, Austin expressed his interest in continuing to improve the US-Pakistan relationship and build upon their multiple shared interests in the region, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a readout of the conversation.
"Secretary Austin and General Bajwa discussed the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, regional security and stability, and the bilateral defence relationship more broadly," Kirby said.
Austin discussed the mutual goals of security and stability in the region, he said.
Taliban's surge in Afghanistan has intensified as US and NATO troops wrap up their withdrawal from the war-torn country.
With Taliban attacks increasing, Afghan security forces and government troops have retaliated with airstrikes aided by the United States.
Afghanistan and the US have criticised Pakistan in the past for allowing Taliban fighters to cross into Pakistan where they are provided safe havens and also receive medical treatment.
Nearly 2 million Afghan refugees also live in Pakistan, having fled decades of war in their homeland.
Pakistan has said that it has used its influence over the Taliban to press the insurgents into talks with the US and the Afghan government to find a political solution to the crisis in the neighbouring country.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan last month said that the US really messed it up in Afghanistan as he questioned the American motive for the 2001 invasion of the country in the first place and then their subsequent attempts of seeking a political solution with the Taliban from a position of weakness.
Meanwhile, the United Nations humanitarian chief has voiced extreme concern over the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and called for a ceasefire, saying there are serious threats to women's survival and basic human rights in the war-ravaged country.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said Monday he is "extremely concerned" by the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan where more than 1,000 people have been killed or injured due to indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Helmand, Kandahar and Herat provinces in the last month alone.
"Afghan children, women and men are suffering and forced to live with violence, insecurity, and fear every day. There are grave concerns for women's survival and basic human rights," he said, adding that 40 years of war and displacement, compounded by climate shocks and COVID-19, have left almost half of Afghanistan's population in need of emergency aid.
Griffiths said humanitarian organisations are committed to stay and deliver relief and assistance to all civilians in Afghanistan.
They continue to operate in a neutral and impartial manner but need unimpeded access and assurances that aid workers and service providers can deliver aid and services without interference, he said.
Joining Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and members of the Security Council in strongly condemning attacks against civilians as the Taliban military offensive increases, Griffiths echoed the world organisation's calls for a ceasefire.
"Fighting across the country, which has claimed the lives of over 40,000 people since 2009 when UN reporting began, needs to stop. People have suffered enough," he said.
Reminding all parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including their responsibility to protect civilians and ensure access for humanitarian organisations to reach people in need, he said a safe, secure, and sustainable future in Afghanistan can only be achieved through successful peace negotiations.
The UN children's agency UNICEF also expressed shock by the rapid escalation of grave violations against children in Afghanistan, noting that in the last 72 hours, 20 children have been killed and 130 children have been injured in Kandahar province; two children were killed and three were injured in Khost province and in Paktia province, five children were killed and three were injured.
"The atrocities grow higher by the day. These are not numbers. Each one of these deaths and each case of physical suffering is a personal tragedy. These children are much loved and longed-for daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends. All of them are children whose right to protection, under international humanitarian law, has been disregarded by warring parties," UNICEF Afghanistan Representative Herv? Ludovic De Lys said.
The US has already pulled back the majority of its forces from Afghanistan and is looking to complete the drawdown by August 31, ending nearly two-decade of its military presence in the country.
Afghanistan has been witnessing a series of terror attacks since the US began withdrawing its troops on May 1.
The Taliban have captured more than half of Afghanistan's 400-odd districts.
Their attacks on provincial capitals have violated the 2020 peace deal between the Taliban and the United States, the New York Times reported.
De Lys added that these atrocities are also evidence of the brutal nature and scale of violence in Afghanistan which preys on already vulnerable children.
"On top of this appalling situation, UNICEF is also deeply concerned about reports that children are, increasingly, being recruited into the conflict by armed groups. Many other boys and girls are deeply traumatized as they witness atrocities committed against their families and others in their communities," the UNICEF official said.
Asserting that children should not pay for this worsening conflict with their childhoods, the official added that only a complete end of hostilities can protect Afghanistan's children.
"As long as the conflict rages, children's right to thrive is compromised; their futures jeopardized, and their contributions to their nation's prospects diminished."
"All children, including children with disabilities, need protection and peace now. UNICEF calls on all those engaged in mediation efforts to uphold the warring parties to their international obligations to children."