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US Official Slams Taliban for Falling Short on Public Pledges

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In this Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs photo, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, right, meets with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, second left, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Oct. 8, 2021.

A senior American diplomat said Friday that the United States was working with global partners to help prevent a looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan but criticized the country’s new Taliban rulers for failing to deliver on their public commitments, including protecting human rights.

“We are extremely concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Afghanistan,” Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in remarks to a small group of reporters before winding up her visit to neighboring Pakistan.

“It is in the interest of all of us in the international community to work together to prevent the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan from spiraling into a broader regional crisis.”

Sherman recounted a recent U.N. warning that about 1 million Afghan children were at risk of starvation, that more than 18 million Afghans needed urgent humanitarian assistance, and that deepening drought and the approaching harsh winter were only going to make matters worse.

“We very much appreciate that Pakistan has also increased its humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan in recent weeks, including providing millions of dollars in food aid," she said.

Taliban pledges

The U.S. diplomat described as “forthright” and “deep and direct” her conversations with Pakistani leaders about “the way forward” in Afghanistan and “how we all should be engaging with the Taliban.”

She noted that Washington had also been “consulting broadly” with countries around the world, including Russia and China, to come to “common understandings and a common approach” on the issue. Sherman ruled out, however, granting diplomatic recognition to the Taliban government “at this point.”

The Biden administration says it is closely monitoring whether the Taliban uphold their promises of tolerance and govern Afghanistan with an inclusive political system where all ethnicities are represented while also ensuring protection of women's rights.

“We will not, however, judge the Taliban on their words but on their actions, and so far their actions have fallen far short of those public commitments,” Sherman said. “My colleagues in the Pakistan government and I discussed the importance of holding the Taliban accountable to the commitments they have made.”

Islamabad has maintained it is not in a rush to recognize the new Taliban government, but it has been urging the U.S. and other countries to engage with the new rulers in Kabul rather than abandoning the turmoil-ravaged country.

The American diplomat said that in her talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and others, the two sides also discussed ways to advance cooperation between Washington and Islamabad.

Qureshi’s office in a statement quoted him as sharing Pakistan’s hope that the Taliban-led government “will work for peace and stability, as well as for the betterment of all Afghans.”

“He also stressed that the current situation required positive engagement of the international community, urgent provision of humanitarian assistance, release of Afghan financial resources, and measures to help build a sustainable economy to alleviate the sufferings of the Afghan people,” the statement said.

Washington has frozen billions of dollars in Afghan assets, mainly deposited in the U.S. federal reserve, since the Taliban took over the country in August.

International lending agencies have also halted their financial assistance to Kabul, citing human rights and other concerns. This has made it difficult for the Islamist group to pay government salaries amid warnings of an economic collapse in Afghanistan.

Strained ties

Sherman, who arrived in the country on Thursday from neighboring India, is the most senior U.S. diplomat to visit Islamabad since President Joe Biden’s administration took office.

“We have a long history of security cooperation and deep personal relationships between our military leaders, both of which are essential components of our counterterrorism efforts,” she said. “We’ve had many years of productive partnership with Pakistan toward that goal and we look forward to more to come.”

In this photo released by Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, left, and Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, right, walk together at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Oct. 8, 2021.
In this photo released by Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, left, and Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, right, walk together at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Oct. 8, 2021.

Sherman also met with Pakistani military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa before concluding her visit, an army statement said.

“Pakistan is committed to making all-out efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan and supports an all-inclusive Afghan government,” Bajwa was quoted as telling Sherman. “The visiting dignitary appreciated Pakistan's role in [the] Afghan situation, especially the assistance in successful evacuation operations, and pledged to continue working with Pakistan for regional peace.”

Despite the upbeat comments, Pakistan’s traditionally tumultuous relationship with the United States is under renewed pressure following the dramatic Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

The tensions are rooted in long-running allegations that Pakistan has had deep ties with, and covertly supported, the Taliban, as the Islamist insurgents battled the U.S.-backed Afghan government for almost 20 years — charges denied by Islamabad.

Late last month, a group of 22 Republican senators introduced legislation to impose sanctions on the Taliban and on all foreign governments that support the hardline Islamic group.

The bill also seeks official input from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken about his assessment of the role Pakistan played in supporting the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul.

“It is an attempt to pass the buck,” Qureshi told a recent news conference, alluding to the proposed legislation.

“Scapegoating Pakistan would be overlooking ground realities. And they have to understand that a partnership with Pakistan is required in the future, as well, to achieve stability in Afghanistan and the region,” Qureshi said.

Islamabad insists it is being blamed for America’s failures in Afghanistan, even though it facilitated peace talks between the United States and the Taliban that culminated in the February 2020 agreement between the two adversaries. That paved the way for Washington to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan in late August.

Islamabad is campaigning to reset its relationship with Washington and others on what Islamabad calls “geo-economics,” or development and trade, and to move away from the traditional security-based partnership.

Adam Weinstein, a research fellow at the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said that expectations were low for a breakthrough in Sherman’s talks with Pakistani officials.

"Pakistan wants the United States to formally recognize the Taliban and accept a geo-economic reset that broadens U.S.-Pakistan relations to issues beyond security. Neither is going to happen anytime soon,” Weinstein told VOA.

“If Washington's diplomatic outreach to Pakistan revolves around counterterrorism to the exclusion of all other issues, then that's not diplomacy but rather militarized diplomacy,” Weinstein said.

Critics noted with skepticism Sherman’s pledges of furthering bilateral ties with Pakistan, citing remarks she made Thursday during her visit to India.

“It [the Pakistan visit] is for a very specific and narrow purpose. We don’t see ourselves building a broad relationship with Pakistan. And we have no interest in returning to the days of hyphenated India-Pakistan. That’s not where we are. That’s not where we’re going to be,” she said at an event in the Indian city of Mumbai.

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