PESHAWAR: Representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban are set to meet again for the second round of peace talks on Friday, senior Pakistan government officials said.
The meeting to be held in the hill resort of Murree just outside Pakistan’s federal capital of Islamabad would be more substantive, raising hopes of a viable peace process to end the conflict in Afghanistan, the officials said.
An official, who requested he be not named “out of deference to our friends from Kabul”, said: “It is an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace initiative. We are here to facilitate.”
Know more: Afghan govt, Taliban agree to build trust
With direct knowledge of the meeting, he said the second round would be more substantive and detailed. “The fact that the two sides are re-convening in less than a month is encouraging. It is a big success,” the official said.
“But let’s not be over ambitious. Let’s not raise the expectations bar too high,” cautioned another official, who also requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media. “This is just the beginning of a long process. Both sides will have to understand each other’s positions and make a determined effort to meet half way,” he said.
“We expect both sides to discuss confidence-building measures, including steps to bring down the level of violence before they move on to discuss the more complex issues to end the conflict in Afghanistan.” He said that Kabul seemed ready to listen to and discuss what the Taliban have to say.
The first round of what Islamabad described as the 2+2+1 or the Murree Peace Process was held on July 7. Pakistan’s foreign office in a statement at the end of the night-long deliberations said participants recognised the need to undertake confidence-building measures in order to engender trust among all stakeholders.
There was some confusion over the venue of the second round of talks with Afghan government officials saying the meeting could take place in the north-western Chinese city of Urumqi, while some within the Taliban wanted the meeting to take place in Doha.
The official said that the level of delegation was expected to remain the same, though efforts were being made to persuade Taliban to send more senior representatives to the talks. “If this happens, the Afghan government would also raise the level of their delegation to the second round.”
In the first round, the Afghan government side was led by its deputy foreign minister, Hekmat Khalil Karzai, while the Taliban delegation was led by Mulla Abbas Durrani. “We are hoping for more senior level Taliban participation,” the official said.
Asked about reports of rift within the Taliban ranks over peace talks, he said there could be some groups who would be opposed to the peace process. “There are people who want to talk and there could be people who would want to fight. But the group that has the largest number of fighters on the ground and is able to make an impact will have the sway. And that is the mainstream group that is holding the talks,” the official maintained.
Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2015