Need stressed for direct Afghan talks

January 12, 2016

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THE Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz shakes hands with Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai prior to a meeting of delegates from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States. US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson is seen at left.—White Star
THE Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz shakes hands with Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai prior to a meeting of delegates from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States. US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson is seen at left.—White Star

ISLAMABAD: The first round of four-nation consultations on reviving the stalled Afghan reconciliation process has called for immediate commencement of direct dialogue between the Afghan government and Taliban factions for ending conflict in Afghanistan.

“The participants emphasised the immediate need for direct talks between representatives of the government of Afghanistan and representatives from Taliban groups in a peace process that aims to preserve Afghanistan’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said a joint statement issued here on Monday at the end of a meeting of the quadrilateral coordination group of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States, which is striving to facilitate peace and reconciliation in the war-torn country.

It was the first meeting of the group that was formed on Dec 9 last year on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia Conference. The immediate task before the group at its inaugural session was to develop a framework for its functioning, besides defining its terms of reference in accordance with the agreed mandate.

The participants further deliberated on the roles the four countries were to play, while working for reconciliation, and the expected challenges.


Four-nation consultations held on participants’ roles in peace process


Other than calling for direct talks between the Afghan government and Taliban, the substantive outcome was an understanding on carrying forward the quadrilateral process and holding regular meetings of the group. The next round of the four-way talks would be held in Kabul on Jan 18 in which the roadmap for the process would be discussed.

Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, while opening the talks, shared Pakistani proposals for wooing Taliban groups to join the dialogue process. He suggested that pre-conditions and threat of use of force against the irreconcilables should be avoided at this stage. The Afghan government, he added, should instead work for creating an environment conducive to reconciliation talks by taking confidence-building measures and offering incentives.

“The primary objective of the reconciliation process is to create conditions to bring the Taliban groups to the negotiation table and offer them incentives that can persuade them to move away from using violence as tool for pursuing political goals. It is, therefore, important that pre-conditions are not attached to the start of the negotiation process. This in our view will be counter-productive,” Mr Aziz told the participants.

He also cautioned that “threat of the use of military action against irreconcilables cannot precede the offer of talks to all the groups and their response to such offers”.

Mr Aziz appeared to be reacting to some of the statements made by Afghan officials ahead of talks in which they threatened to take action against those refusing to join the dialogue process.

During Gen Raheel Sharif’s visit to Kabul last month, Pakistan and Afghanistan had agreed that they would develop a joint strategy against the irreconcilables. But it was decided that this strategy would be formulated once all reconcilables had been taken on board and the irreconcilables isolated.

Mr Aziz said: “Distinction between reconcilable and irreconcilable and how to deal with the irreconcilables can follow once the avenues for bringing them to the talks have been exhausted.”

He further said that “unrealistic targets and deadlines” should not be set.

The respective delegations were led by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson and China’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Deng Xijun.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2016