ISLAMABAD: The night-long talks between the Afghan government and Taliban which continued till early hours of Wednesday ended on a positive note with an agreement to meet again after Eid and take steps to build trust.
“The participants recognised the need for developing confidence-building measures to engender trust among all stakeholders. The participants agreed to continue talks to create an environment conducive to peace and reconciliation process. The next meeting will be held at a mutually convenient date after Ramazan,” the Foreign Office said in a statement at the conclusion of the talks.
The negotiations held in Murree in the presence of US and Chinese officials were the first direct contact between the two sides in almost two years since the 2013 Doha office fiasco and were widely welcomed.
The Afghan foreign ministry described the contact as “the first meeting of formal peace negotiations between official delegations of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban Movement”.
The Pakistani side is calling it the 2+1+2 initiative or the Murree peace process. The 2+1+2 initiative implies the two Afghan delegations (Afghan government and Taliban), Pakistan and two international backers (the United States and China).
The Afghan government delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai and the Taliban side by Mullah Abbas Durrani. Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry represented Pakistan and was assisted by military and ISI officials. Two Chinese officials and a senior US official from Washington attended the talks.
The discussions were held in a positive atmosphere reflecting the desire on both sides to move forward with the process, a source said, adding that both Afghan government representatives and Taliban leaders appeared content at the outcome of the first interaction.
“The ambiance was so good and the atmosphere was so positive that by the time they concluded the talks close to first light to break up for Sehri, they were hugging each other,” a Pakistani official said in a background briefing.
The participants at the Pakistan-brokered talks deliberated on the agenda and roadmap for the process with an emphasis on making it a continuous engagement; and the confidence-building measures both sides were required to take. Both sides, according to the source, also reiterated their stated positions.
Murree talks end on positive note
“The participants exchanged views on ways and means to bring peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. It was agreed that for lasting peace in the region each side would approach the process in sincerity and with full commitment,” the FO statement said.
The public reactions from the Afghan government and Taliban after the talks reflected the positivity witnessed during the engagement.
“The government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan welcomes the official beginning of the negotiations that happen for the first time, affirms their decisions and considers it as the first step towards reaching peace,” Afghan foreign ministry said.
The Taliban, who had religiously denied all earlier informal contacts, meanwhile, in a statement issued by their spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid authorised the Doha political office for undertaking all negotiations with internal and external players.
“The political office (based in Doha) has been empowered to establish contact and hold negotiations with national and internal elements in accordance with the Islamic principles and national interest,” the Taliban statement said.
The statement in Pashto was taken as a signal to the Afghan government that the representatives, who initiated the dialogue in Murree, were fully empowered.
The Taliban delegation at the talks was widely represented and was said to include all major factions. The Afghan government side was equally balanced in representation and included representatives of both allies in the National Unity Government – President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
The expectation from the process is that it leads to end of violence in Afghanistan and brings stability to the region.
“We are hopeful that the negotiations result in ensuring dignified peace and permanent stability in the country and region. … It (the National Unity Government) also hopes that this cooperation produces practical and tangible results so that both countries enjoy security and stability and both nations are rid of war,” the Afghan foreign ministry said.
It remains unclear how quickly Taliban could agree to halt violent activities. The upcoming meetings can perhaps bring more clarity.
In background briefings, Pakistani officials warned against “outsized expectations”.
“It is a very long overdue and a complicated process, so attaching high expectations to the first meeting or engagement will not be wise,” an official said.
Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif had in February conveyed to President Ghani the willingness of Taliban to talk to the Afghan government. However, the process got delayed because of the leaks about the proposed dialogue.
“The talks could have occurred sooner than later had there not been leaks in Kabul in March. The leak had its implications. The Taliban were upset over the leaks and it took an effort to persuade them to engage with the Ghani administration,” a Pakistani official said.
The official credited Gen Sharif and the ISI for Pakistan’s successful hosting of the first meeting of the Afghan peace dialogue.
“There was a realisation that zero tolerance for terrorism in Pakistan and the region could not be achieved without bringing peace to Afghanistan,” the official explained.
The talks were welcomed by China, the United Nations and the US.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at her daily press briefing in Beijing: “China thinks positively of this meeting. We believe it is conducive to the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. We commend the flexibility shown by relevant parties in facilitating this meeting and the common will of advancing the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.”
China, she said, stood ready to work continuously and closely with all relevant parties and play a constructive role in realising broad-based and inclusive peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
A Chinese embassy official in Islamabad, meanwhile, clarified that China did not take part in the Murree meeting as an observer and was instead there as a “participant”.
The head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Nicholas Haysom, welcomed the direct talks between Afghan government and Taliban representatives in Pakistan and urged the parties to take the next steps towards reconciliation and peace process.
“These talks should be recognised as the outcome of the recent concerted efforts at rebuilding relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Haysom said.
White House has already welcomed the talks.
“The United States commends the government of Afghanistan’s prioritisation of peace and reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, and we both acknowledge and appreciate Pakistan’s important efforts to host these conversations,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in his Tuesday briefing.
Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2015