- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2018

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said Monday Pakistan must take on a substantive role in peace talks with the Taliban if the war in neighboring Afghanistan is to be ended.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon Monday, Mr. Mattis demanded Islamabad provide explicit support for “all those who are trying to maintain peace” in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region.

“We are looking for every responsible nation to support peace in the subcontinent and across this war in Afghanistan. … It is time for everyone to get on board,” Mr. Mattis said ahead of bilateral talks with Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Monday.

His comments coincide with a new effort by the Trump administration to prod Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for “support and facilitation” to help reach a political solution to the Afghan war. President Trump included the request for Mr. Khan’s assistance in the Afghan peace process in a letter sent to the Pakistani leader Monday.

The letter reflected Mr. Trump’s recognition that “Pakistan has the ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory” while also making clear Islamabad’s role in the peace process “is fundamental to building an enduring U.S.-Pakistan partnership,” an administration official told Reuters news service.

Pakistani officials said the letter is a clear sign that Washington recognizes their country’s sacrifices in the 17-year war. Mr. Trump “has emphasized that Pakistan and [U.S.] should explore opportunities to work together and renew partnership,” officials from the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Ministry officials reiterated that Islamabad remained committed to “a facilitation role in good faith” as part of peace and reconciliation efforts in the war-torn country. “Peace and stability in Afghanistan remain a shared responsibility,” Monday’s statement said.

“We are on that track,” Mr. Mattis told reporters. “It is diplomatically led as it should be, and we will do our best to protect the Afghan people through that diplomatic work and more.”

New U.S. envoy to the region Zalmay Khalilzad has reportedly already met senior Taliban leaders for closed-door talks on a potential peace deal. President Trump has repeatedly expressed a desire to end the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan.

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