ISLAMABAD: The Fore­ign Office appears optimistic that the inaugural round of reconciliation dialogue bet­ween the Afghan government and Taliban would be held in a few days in Pakistan.

Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria, speaking at the weekly media briefing, recalled the agreement reached at the last meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) countries for possibly opening direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban groups by the first week of March.

He was replying to a question about the date and venue of upcoming talks.

Mr Zakaria said that efforts for holding the meeting were continuing, but noted that he did not have “any confirmation of the dates of the talks”.

Apart from behind the scenes contacts, Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif visited Qatar last month for getting the support of its leadership with regard to participation of Doha-based Political Office of Taliban in the talks, whom Afghan government, according to VOA, considers as the “legitimate interlocutor”.

Gen Sharif visited Kabul this week, where again he held follow-up talks with President Ashraf Ghani and the US military leadership over efforts for holding reconciliation dialogue, about which the ISPR had said that “optimism for positive outcome of the reconciliation process” was expressed.

Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz in his speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in the US, admitted that Pakistan had influence over Taliban, which it could use to bring them to the negotiating table.

It is in this context that some analysts see the Pakistani commitment during just concluded round of Strategic Dialogue with the US about preventing Taliban from using its soil any further as a pressure tactic to force insurgents to join the dialogue process.

The FO spokesman said that convening the meeting was a “shared responsibility” of the four countries participating in the quadrilateral process: Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China.

“The quadrilateral process is continuing satisfactorily and progressing well.… All countries have expressed their satisfaction with the quadrilateral process,” he said as he seemingly dismissed a proposal for expanding the four-way process by including other regional countries.

Mr Zakaria said that QCG efforts for reconciliation in Afghanistan were aimed at ending violence in Afghanistan and establishing lasting peace there.

Last year Afghanistan witnessed worst violence since 2009 and the trend has continued in 2016.

Afghanistan’s lead negotiator Hekmat Karzai, while talking to Pakistani correspondents visiting Kabul, had sounded sceptical about the reconciliation process lowering the violence immediately.

INDIA: The FO spokesman rejected Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s remarks about non-state actors involved in the Pathankot attack getting support from Pakistani state institutions as “unfortunate and unhelpful”.

He said that Pakistan “took all necessary measures on the basis of preliminary information provided by India” and that modalities for the visit of the Pakistani Joint Investigation Team to India for collecting further evidence were being worked out.

He said that cooperation and understanding were the need of the hour.

The spokesman further said that dates for the foreign secretary level talks between India and Pakistan were also being finalised.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2016

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