US tries to safeguard Afghan peace push from Indo-Pak crisis

WASHINGTON DC: The United States is trying to prevent simmering tensions between India and Pakistan from impacting a third country: Afghanistan, where a fragile peace push is underway to try to end more than 17 years of war with Taliban insurgents. US President Donald Trump’s administration has been publicly focused on lowering tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals since a February 14 suicide car bomb in an Indian occupied area of Kashmir.Senior US officials told Reuters that as the United States spoke with senior Pakistani officials, emphasising the need to lower the risk of conflict with India, Islamabad said any conflict with its eastern neighbour could affect the peace process in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials said their ability to support Afghan peace talks could be in jeopardy in the event of a full-blown crisis, US officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They’ll stop being a facilitator,” one US official said, recounting Pakistani warnings conveyed to Washington. The ties between Islamabad and Washington have seen ups and downs in the past decade. Reuters has previously reported, however, that US officials have recently seen a positive shift in Pakistan. Pakistan, at odds with the United States over the war in Afghanistan, has played a behind-the-scenes role in supporting US peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, including by facilitating travel to negotiations. Movement of troops In the past several days, India and Pakistan have appeared to dial down hostilities that brought the arch enemies to the brink of another war. But it’s unclear whether the calm will hold. A Pakistani official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, cautioned that unless the tensions were reduced, there was a “very strong likelihood” that Pakistani troops would be moved from the border with Afghanistan to reinforce positions near India. Ambassador to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi told Reuters that Islamabad’s focus could completely shift to its eastern border with India. “If the crisis with India continues, Pakistan will be obliged to keep our entire focus on our Eastern border. That may affect our efforts on our Western front,” Lodhi said.The Pakistani official in Washington said Pakistan had not been focused on Afghanistan since tensions with India increased last month, and it would have implications for peace talks. US officials acknowledge a major crisis involving India would be all-consuming for Islamabad and say it’s another reason why lowering tensions is so important. Dan Feldman, a former US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said many of the Pakistani officials who dealt with India were also responsible for Afghanistan, and that tensions could impact peace talks. Trump sees Indo-Pak tension de-escalating soonHow the Indo-Pak tensions escalated Tensions escalated dramatically between Pakistan and India on February 14 when a young man – a native of Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK) – rammed an explosives-laden car into an Indian military convoy, killing at least 44 soldiers. India was quick to blame the state of Pakistan for the suicide bombing.PM Imran offered every possible help in the investigation, but India turned down the offer and whipped up war hysteria. On February 26, the Indian Air Force violated Pakistani airspace. The country’s top civil and military leadership declared the violation of airspace by Indian fighter jets “uncalled for aggression” and decided that the country would respond at a “time and place of its choosing”. On February 27, Pakistan announced it had shot down two Indian fighter jets that attempted to violate its airspace and captured an Indian pilot. The military’s media wing later released a video of the pilot, who introduced himself as Wing Commander Abhinandan bearing service number 27981. Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor said in a press conference that the armed forces had responsibly retaliated to Indian incursion by striking a target few miles from an Indian military’s administrative unit to ensure there were no human life or collateral damage.“We decided to not hit a military target or endanger human life. We did not want to retaliate at the cost of regional peace. We do not want escalation,” he told reporters. India asks Pakistan to ‘do more’ A few hours later, Prime Minister Imran Khan took the nation into confidence over the armed forces’ response. As escalating tensions fuelled concerns of all-out war between nuclear-tipped Pakistan, Imran warned of catastrophic consequences should “better sense” not prevail. The premier ended his speech with another peace talks offer and cooperation in Pulwama attack investigation to India. On February 28, the Foreign Office said it received a dossier on the Pulwama attack from the Indian government. It added that the government was deliberating whether to treat Abhinandan as a prisoner of war (POW) or apply any international convention. In the evening, PM Imran addressed a joint session of the parliament and announced that Pakistan would release the captured pilot as a goodwill gesture to de-escalate tensions. It may be mentioned here that the US, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom and European Union (EU) were involved in both overt and covert diplomacy to find a way out of the impasse between the two countries.

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