ISLAMABAD: Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz on Monday opened a meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Committee (QCC) aimed at reviving the Afghan peace process.
The QCC interaction ─ comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States (US) ─ reflects an important consensus on the roadmap for peace talks. Taliban representatives have not been invited to the talks, vowing to talk only to the US and not to the Afghan government.
A first round of peace talks with the Taliban was held in July but collapsed after the Taliban belatedly confirmed the death of their founder Mullah Omar.
Sartaj Aziz while addressing the four-nation meeting today said the talks aimed to outline efficient procedures which will provide a basis for smooth functioning of the group.
He emphasised the importance of not attaching pre-conditions to start of the negotiating process. "This, in our view, would be counter-productive."
"Threat of use of military action against irreconcilables cannot proceed the offer of talks to all the groups and their response to such offers."
Sartaj warned against prematurely deciding which Taliban factions are ready to talk.
"Distinction between reconcilables and irreconcilables and how to deal with the irreconcilables can follow once the avenues for bringing them to the table have been exhausted," he elaborated.
He proposed four points to help guide the reconciliation process:
- Creating conditions to incentivise the Taliban to move away from using violence to pursue political goals and come to the negotiating table
- Sequencing actions and measures appropriately to pave the way for direct talks with the Taliban
- Using confidence-building measures to encourage Taliban groups to join the negotiating table
- A realistic and flexible roadmap which broadly defines steps and phases ─ but avoids unrealistic targets and deadlines ─ is important for charting the course of action
At the start of the conference, Sartaj Aziz urged that participants avoid the media and work toward finding ways to get even the most intransigent Taliban to talk peace.
He said the gathering needs "to define the overall direction of the reconciliation process" and define goals "with a view to creating a conducive environment for holding direct talks between the Afghan government and Taliban groups."
A senior official in Pakistan’s foreign ministry confirmed to Dawn Newspaper that Islamabad will be represented by Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry during the talks, while Afghanistan will be represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai.
Pakistan is expected to present a list of Taliban representatives willing to negotiate with Kabul at the meeting today, Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman to the Afghan Chief Executive, said on Sunday.
He said Pakistan’s list would include Taliban members who were and were not willing to participate in talks with Kabul on ending the 15-year war.
Sartaj Aziz, while speaking to AP, refused to say whether Pakistan was in possession of such a list.
Faisal said any agreement would include “bilateral cooperation on eliminating terrorism. Those who are interested in peace can join the dialogue, but those who wish to continue the fight will be targeted through joint counter-terrorism platforms,” he said.
Terms for the upcoming meeting were finalised last month during a visit to Kabul by Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Raheel Sharif, Faisal said. Pakistani officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Pakistan had agreed to cut off financial support to the Taliban fighters, including in Quetta and Peshawar, he said.
A breakaway Taliban group said today (Monday) it was ready for talks. The faction, which emerged following the revelation last year that Mullah Omar had died two years ago, is believed to be relatively small and its absence from the battlefield is unlikely to be a game changer.
Sartaj Aziz addressing the meeting today said the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad last month provided impetus for lasting peace in Afghanistan.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani at the Heart of Asia conference in December 2015 spoke of the threat terrorism posed to the region, emphasised the need for peace and spoke at length about the kinds of measures that could be taken to achieve regional stability.
"What is the nature of the Taliban and how do we deal with it?" he questioned. "There is no historical precedent for solving this problem," he said, referring to the challenges posed by terrorism.
"The quarrel of these people [militants] is not with the government of Afghanistan or its people. We are fighting on behalf of all of you," Ghani told the conference, "But we are the ones who are daily suffering some of the worst atrocities, including the butchering of our children and elderly who are totally innocent."
Ghani had called for a mechanism of regional cooperation to examine "how the networks of terror coordinate, co-finance, what is their linkage with the criminal economy, how is radicalism shaping and maligning our holy religion and our opportunities for global engagement and dialogue".
While non-state actors have been used in the past, he called for participants to "distance ourselves from non-state actors because the word of states is the word of predictability".
State-to-state, political-to-political, military-to-military, economic-to-economic and intelligence-to-intelligence cooperation are central to the Pak-Afghan relationship, he said.
"We need to create a framework for comprehensive cooperation so that, in light of drivers of conflict, we can fashion solutions that are going to be lasting. Peace is not equivalent to reconciliation. It requires dealing with all the drivers of conflict so that a multidimensional peace, that truly will ensure that all of us live in harmony and can count on each other for enforcing an agreed set of rules of the game, is essential."
Pakistan was among three countries that recognised the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime and Kabul has long accused Islamabad of continuing to covertly support the group in their insurgency.
Pakistan, however, maintains its influence over the Taliban is overrated. "Even at the best of times they (Taliban) didn't listen to us," Sartaj Aziz told The Associated Press.