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    US commander wants Kabul to lead peace talks

    WASHINGTON (PAN): The United States should acknowledge the Afghan government’s lead for any reconciliation negotiations in the country, a Pentagon commander told lawmakers on Thursday.

    “Afghanistan is adamant that its government must maintain control of any reconciliation negotiations. The US role should acknowledge that the Afghanistan government is the lead for reconciliation and focus on acting as a mediator,” the CENTCOM commander said.

    General Lloyd J. Austin told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing: “Achieving durable peace in Afghanistan will require some form of political settlement among Afghans.”

    That settlement must ultimately be brokered among the Afghans themselves, Austin stressed in written response to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    Noting that neighbours had legitimate interests in Afghanistan and needed to play a constructive role in the reconciliation process, Austin said Pakistan must take steps to ensure that militant and extremist groups could not continue to find safe haven on its soil.

    “It should actively support the Afghan-led process. Ultimately, Pakistan and the other regional neighbours will benefit from improved stability in Afghanistan,” the commander argued.

    Austin said as coalition and US-led international troops were reduced in size and scope with the drawdown, Afghan forces would play a greater role in counterterrorism.

    Responding to questions on the Status of Forces Agreement, Austin said exclusive jurisdiction is an essential requirement for US troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014.  

    “Without jurisdiction over our troops, our activity in Afghanistan must be limited to traditional security assistance. Combat and training activities cannot be conducted without this protection,” he maintained.

    Austin said removing all US forces threatened the achievements gained in Afghanistan over the last 12 years of sustained combat. Such a withdrawal could open the door to a return of Al Qaeda, collapse of the Afghan government and lead to increased instability in the region.