White House officials are pushing for a permanent cease-fire between Taliban troops and Afghanistan security forces, and they’re hopeful that Pakistan can help make it happen.
President Donald Trump will meet with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Washington on Monday for a meeting focused on security in the region. The bilateral meeting is expected to last several hours and is being touted as a high-level display of the administration’s focus on finding an end to the 18-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.
Senior administration officials told reporters in recent days that along with trade and human rights issues, Afghanistan would be the major focus of the talks, with an eye towards getting all sides to agree to end fighting.
Sen. Lindsey Graham called draft plans for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan “absurd” and warned the U.S. presence is an “insurance policy against the reemergence of al-Qaeda/ISIS types.”
Pakistan is seen as a key ally in Afghanistan peace efforts, given both its influence in the region and its past ties to numerous insurgent groups in the region.
White House officials said they are “clear-eyed” about the problematic connections between terrorist groups and the Pakistani military and intelligence, but also believe that the country’s leadership has made steps towards rejecting terrorism and stabilizing the region.
Trump will ask Khan for “concrete cooperation from Pakistan to advance the Afghanistan peace process and to encourage Pakistan to deepen and sustain its recent effort to crackdown on militants and terrorists” within its borders, a senior official said.
The move comes amid increased talk from the White House about a full U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. About 14,000 American service members are currently stationed in the country, down from earlier in Trump’s presidency.
Earlier this month, in an interview with Fox News, Trump said he believes the U.S. mission there should be brought to an end but added that Pentagon leaders have convinced him that some American military presence in Afghanistan is still necessary. “The problem is, it just seems to be a lab for terrorists,” he said.
All-Afghan talks that brought together Afghanistan’s warring sides ended Tuesday with a statement that appeared to push the country a step closer to peace, by laying down the outlines of a roadmap for the country’s future and ending nearly 18 years of war.
On July 7, Afghan government officials met with Taliban negotiators in Qatar in what administration officials hailed as a positive step in the peace process. But the news was marred by an uptick in Taliban attacks in following days, and White House officials have said a cease fire is critical to moving forward on negotiations.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he is hopeful some type of peace deal can be reached by the end of the summer.
Thirteen U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan since the start of 2019. More than 2,400 have died since the start of the war there in 2001.