Islamabad, Pakistan – The United States has lauded Afghan President Ashraf Ghani‘s offer to open negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, with senior US State Department official Alice Wells saying the armed group has some “legitimate grievances” over governance.
“We’ve always said that the legitimate grievances raised by the Taliban over justice, over corruption, over predatory governance of the past – those issues need to be resolved,” said Wells at a press briefing in Washington on Monday.
Last week, President Ghani offered the Taliban peace talks “without preconditions”, with a view towards recognising the armed group, which has been fighting US and Afghan forces for 16 years, as a legitimate political party.
Wells welcomed Ghani’s proposal, saying the Kabul conference at which it was made was “a really historic and benchmark event”.
The Afghan Taliban have yet to formally respond to the offer. The group has been resurgent in the battlefield in recent months, with a US watchdog reporting in October that 43 percent of the country was being contested between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
In January, a BBC study found that the Afghan Taliban directly controlled four percent of the country, but were openly active in 70 percent of Afghanistan.
Responding to a question on relations with Pakistan, Wells appeared to soften the US position on Afghanistan’s eastern neighbour, with whom relations have been fraught since last year.
“Pakistan has a very important role to play in a peace process. We believe that Pakistan can certainly help to facilitate talks and to take actions that will put pressure on and encourage the Taliban to move forward towards a politically negotiated settlement,” she said, pointing out that Pakistan had “legitimate concerns” in Afghanistan.
“They have concerns over border management; over the [Pakistani Taliban’s] presence in ungoverned space in Afghanistan; refugee concerns,” she said.
Pakistan and the US have sparred in a war of words since last August, when US President Donald Trump announced his Afghanistan and South Asia policy, singling out Pakistan for particular criticism.
In January, Trump cut $1.1bn in security aid to Pakistan, saying the country was not doing enough to fight elements of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network allegedly present in its territory. Pakistan denies the charge.
Despite the aid freeze, diplomatic contacts between the two countries have continued, and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua is in Washington for high-level talks this week.
Her visit follows a trip to Islamabad by senior US National Security Council official Lisa Curtis last week.
“Ms. Curtis urged the government of Pakistan to address the continuing presence of the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups within its territory, and reiterated the international community’s long-standing concern about ongoing deficiencies in Pakistan’s implementation of its anti-money laundering/counterterrorism finance regime,” a statement released after that visit said.
Pakistan recently faced an international setback at a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Paris, where it was decided to place the country on the international organisation’s ‘grey list’, for not doing enough to clamp down on the financing of armed groups, including those that target regional rival India.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim