KABUL: Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry (left) and Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai (second right) arrive for a meeting here on Monday. Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States held talks aimed at laying the ground for a negotiated end to almost 15 years of war between US-supported government forces and Taliban.—Reuters
KABUL: Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry (left) and Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai (second right) arrive for a meeting here on Monday. Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States held talks aimed at laying the ground for a negotiated end to almost 15 years of war between US-supported government forces and Taliban.—Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Afghanistan reaffirmed on Monday their commitment to having good bilateral ties and fighting terrorist groups of ‘all’ shades.

The pledge was renewed at the second meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China on the Afghan peace and reconciliation process, in Kabul.

Contentious issues in bilateral relations, which have been impeding progress towards reconciliation, remained the focus of the discussions at the meeting held to deliberate on a roadmap for Afghan peace talks.

The roadmap, when finalised, will lay down steps that will be taken to create a conducive environment for resuming reconciliation process, which was suspended in July last year when it became known that Taliban chief Mullah Omar had died two years ago.

In a joint statement issued at the conclusion of the meeting, the four countries participating in the quadrilateral process reported “progress on the roadmap”. The only substantive progress discernible from the statement was agreements on combating terrorism of all sorts and having better ties.

“The QCG countries agree that all forms of terrorism present a grave threat to the countries, the region and the world. The members indicated their commitment to a robust effort to eliminate all forms of terrorist groups, regardless of their national origin, operating in their respective territories,” it said.

According to news agencies, “the four-nation group called upon all Taliban groups to enter into early talks with the Afghan government”.

Though the statement mentioned an agreement among the four countries on the terrorist threat and clarity on fighting all terror groups without any discrimination, there was little doubt that it actually referred to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The two countries regularly accuse each other of allowing sanctuaries to the groups targeting each other.

During Operation Zarb-i-Azb, Pakistan has achieved major successes in the fight against the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant groups belie­ved to be behind terrorist attacks in the country, but is accused of having spared militants involved in Afghan conflict. On the other hand, Kabul is accused of having turned a blind eye to the TTP militants operating from its soil.

This mutual mistrust has been souring bilateral relations.

At the QCG meeting, again without a direct reference to the two neighbours, it was agreed that “friendly, mutually respectful and cooperative relations between the member states... are necessary to create an enabling environment for the peace process in Afghanistan”.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the main parties in the quadrilateral group whereas China and the US have joined the arrangement to inspire confidence in it.

Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, in his opening remarks at the meeting, had emphasised on setting red lines for ensuring effectiveness of the roadmap. The red lines, he said, were essential for the integrity of the process and honouring sacrifices of the Afghans.

Mr Rabbani cautioned that “an open-ended process without tangible results” would not be acceptable.

Since it started functioning on Jan 11, the quadrilateral group has been calling for immediate start of direct talks between the Afghan government and Taliban. But neither has there been a let-up in violence nor has any Taliban group indicated willingness to join the reconciliation process.

Reacting to a suicide bombing in Jalalabad a day before the quadrilateral group met in Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani had said: “The government will not enter into peace talks with those who continue the war and shed the blood of our innocent people. The national security and defence forces will fight back the terrorist groups with full force to protect our people and country.”

At the meeting, the respective delegations were led by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, US Ambassador to Afghanistan Michael McKinley and China’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Deng Xijun.

The group’s next meeting will be held in Islamabad on Feb 6.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2016

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