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US President Donald Trump's new South Asia Strategy, which had sought an enhanced role for India, is showing progress in its first 100 days, but it needs to be given time to take root, the White House has said. Trump had sought a major role for India in bringing peace in Afghanistan and ruled out a hasty withdrawal of troops from the war-torn nation while announcing his new Afghanistan and South Asia policy in August. "It has been 100 days since the president announced the South Asia strategy. We certainly wouldn't have expected to see any major breakthroughs (in these 100 days). We need to give the strategy time to take root and show progress. But at the same time, I think we have seen some signs that are positive," a senior Trump administration official told PTI. In an interaction with PTI on the completion of 100 days of Trump's new policy, which seeks tougher approach towards Pakistan in its fight against terrorism, the official pointed out towards the confidence that the administration has seen this strategy has brought to the Afghan government as well as the Afghan people. They have been inspired by the long-term commitment that Trump enunciated in his speech, and gave them a bit of confidence, the official said on condition of anonymity. The senior administration official said the new South Asia Policy has also begun to lead to different strategic calculations by the regional players. "Ten months ago, perhaps, they were hedging their bets... maybe reaching out to the Taliban, uncertain of how the situation would go.
Whereas, we're beginning to see different calculations among the regional players," the official said. The White House now expects to see the regional players play a more constructive role in Afghanistan and in supporting a peace process in particular. Meanwhile, the additional military resources and authorities that Trump provided to the US troops have also started to make a difference, the official said. Noting that the Taliban had a difficult fighting season, the official said for the first time since 2014 the fighting season has passed without the Taliban threatening to seize a provincial capital. "We've also made progress against the ISIS threat in eastern Afghanistan. We've been able to reduce the amount of territory they were holding by two thirds and eliminate about one third of their fighters," the official said. As part of the comprehensive strategy, the administration has focused on reinvigorating regional diplomacy. It has held the Quadrilateral Coordination Group meeting at the Assistant Secretary level and is looking forward to participating in the Afghan-owned and Afghan-initiated Kabul peace conference which will take place in January. Another major part of the strategy is the compact for reform in Afghanistan. This is aimed at upholding the Afghan government to account on reform in the security sector, governance reform, economic reform and growth and then also seeing progress on peace and reconciliation. That means ensuring that the government is organized in such a way that it could support a comprehensive peace process if it were to be launched. Responding to a question, the official said 100 days are "not sufficient time to really judge the strategy." By the next fighting season, the US expects to have more advisors advising their Afghan counterparts, bringing the train, advise and assist mission down to the Kandak level, the tactical level. "We will be preparing for that as well," the official said. "The ultimate goal is a negotiated peace settlement. So we continue to try to encourage peace process between the Afghan government and Taliban. We're not going to negotiate a separate peace with the Taliban. We want to see the Afghan government and the Taliban in negotiations," the official said. The United States, the official said, is ready to facilitate a better relationship between Kabul and Islamabad. "We stand ready to take steps that could lead to better border cooperation, better trade and transit cooperation, reducing the violence and dealing with the refugee situation," the official said.
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