Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan, says Pakistan needs to start cracking down on Afghan Taliban factions to being a new cooperative relationship with Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: Islamic State (IS) militants have reportedly replaced the Taliban in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province. Do you think IS poses a major threat to Afghanistan and the region?
Ryan Crocker: There is no question that IS is a very violent and very dangerous force wherever it is. I have seen the reports, and I have talked to Afghan government officials about this emerging presence inside Afghanistan. I think it does have to be taken very seriously by the Afghan government and Afghanistan's allies led by the United States.
At the same time, IS is going to encounter its own enemies; certainly the Taliban, at least as represented by the Quetta Shura, is very much against IS. What we may see are further splits in the Taliban with one faction against IS and the other faction, maybe, aligning with them. So there could be as much violence among the militants as there would be from IS against the government of Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: Keeping in view the recent increase in militant attacks in various parts of Afghanistan, most Afghans question the utility of their government's strategic partnership and security agreements with the United States. Why, they ask, is the U.S. not fighting the militants or assisting Afghan forces?
Crocker: I was a principle negotiator for that agreement, which was signed in Kabul between presidents Obama and Karzai (in May 2012). It is a very important agreement. The United States had never had that kind of agreement with any Afghan government in the history of our relationship. So we need to take it very seriously, and we need to take its security provisions very seriously.
I am no longer in government, and I don't speak for the government. I think under the terms of that agreement and the spirit with which that agreement was negotiated, when the Afghan government faces threats they need to be able to come to us and ask for our support generally and specifically because that's what the agreement says and that is what our relationship is about. So we need to be doing whatever we can to support Afghanistan's security in accordance with that agreement.
RFE/RL: Despite domestic pressure, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has taken bold steps to mend fraught relations with neighboring Pakistan. Do you think Islamabad will end its support for Afghan Taliban factions such as the Haqqani network and the Quetta Shura or leadership council?
Crocker: President Ghani has taken a very courageous step in seeking a different and much better relationship with Pakistan. It's very important that Pakistan respond to President Ghani's initiative because these groups [the Haqqani network and Quetta Shura] are a threat not only threat to Afghanistan; they are also a threat to Pakistan.
This is a moment. Again, thanks to the courage of President Ghani, (it is a moment) for Pakistan to realize it has a partner in Kabul and a partner (with whom they) can face a common threat and a common problem and then take steps within Pakistan to start cracking down on groups like Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network and other militants in the tribal region of Pakistan. This is an opportunity for both countries.
RFE/RL: Efforts to hold peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are often in the headlines these days. Do you see a U.S. role in such negotiations?
Crocker: It is an issue for the Afghan government and the Afghan people. The United States should be willing and ready to help but only at the request of the Afghan government. It is not for us to make peace with the Taliban. If peace is to be made, it has to be an Afghan peace.
The United States should be ready to do anything the Afghan government asks of it with respect to these negotiations, but we absolutely should not be doing anything independent of the Afghan government.
I think it is critically important that Afghan women be involved in these talks. Real security in this whole region will come when the rights of women are respected and voices of women are heard.