ISLAMABAD: The Afghan government and Taliban negotiators are expected to meet in a week’s time, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz said on Monday. According to him, a major breakthrough in the process is likely within three months.
Speaking at the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Aziz acknowledged for the first time that Pakistan had last month facilitated a meeting of Afghan High Peace Council’s Secretary Masoom Stanekzai with Taliban representatives in the Chinese city of Urumqi and said that another meeting was planned later this month. Mr Stanekzai has now been named as the defence minister.
Mr Aziz did not disclose where the planned meeting would take place. Apparently the two sides would be getting together to discuss the start of the formal peace and reconciliation process.
Mr Aziz’s statement came as Taliban attacked Afghan Parliament in Kabul. The terrorist strike intensified criticism of Pakistan in Afghanistan for not doing enough to move forward on the promised reconciliation process and helping reduce the Taliban violence.
The two sides met for the first time in Chinese city of Urumqi
The exploratory talks between Kabul and Taliban leadership that were initially conducted in secrecy are gradually moving into the public view. Taliban have over the past few weeks, after the Urumqi meeting, acknowledged meeting Afghan government officials and lawmakers in Norway, UAE and Qatar.
But, it’s unusual for Pakistan government’s adviser to go public with details of the country’s role in facilitating the contacts.
Analysts believe that it could be either a result of growing confidence in the process or due to ratcheted up pressure from Afghanistan to deliver something tangible vis-à-vis reconciliation process.
Following Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s unprecedented steps to reach out to Pakistan, including the signing of a MoU on intelligence cooperation, Afghan politicians have become more vocal in their criticism of Islamabad and questioned the sincerity of its pledges on counter-terrorism and reconciliation.
Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee Mehmood Khan Achakzai, during the meeting, shared the Afghan sentiments with the NA body and warned of an approaching crisis in the relations.
“There is a lot of anger in Kabul. All our efforts to mend fences with Afghanistan could go in waste. … we shouldn’t be mistaken that we are going in the right direction. We are politically losing,” he cautioned.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had during a visit to Kabul along with Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif on May 12 tried to reassure the Afghans by denouncing Taliban violence as terrorism and declaring that “the enemies of Afghanistan cannot be friends of Pakistan”. But, the tough sounding words did not help reduce the level of violence in the strife-torn country.
Mr Aziz hoped that progress in reconciliation could lead to decline in violence in Afghanistan. But, he also warned that the Taliban were not the only ones fighting in Afghanistan and other groups including Islamic State and fighters from Central Asian States were also behind the violence there.
Meanwhile, speaking about the intelligence cooperation MoU between ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and Afghan spy agency NDS (National Directorate of Security), which has been severely criticised in Afghanistan for being against national interest, Mr Aziz said it was needed for Afghanistan’s security and checking cross-border movements.
Rejecting the criticism of the MoU by Afghan politicians that its signing by Kabul was tantamount to “appeasement” and “a one-sided concession to Pakistan’s military establishment”, Mr Aziz disclosed that the agreement was signed on the Afghan government’s initiative.
The adviser was of the view that contrary to the detractor’s narrative, which was dominating the political discourse in Afghanistan, relations between the two countries were in good shape.
He said that the Standard Operating Procedure for coordination along the 2,640-kilometre-long porous border had been readied.
“There is complete unanimity of views between the political and military leadership of the two countries,” he added.
Speaking at the committee meeting, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry admitted that continuing violence in Afghanistan was a major impediment towards peace.
He said that there has to be a two-pronged approach, which should include Pakistan using influence with the Taliban leadership and Afghan security forces holding their ground in the fight against militants.
The Afghan forces have been struggling to fend off the Taliban offensive and have lost a number of districts to them since the start of their ‘Operation Azm’ in April. In their latest advances, Taliban have captured two districts in northern Kunduz province.
“That’s why we had been insisting on responsible drawdown,” he said in a reference to the US-led Nato combat mission that concluded at the end of last year.
Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2015