ISLAMABAD: The failure of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) – the four-nation group working for reconciliation in Afghanistan – to initiate direct talks between Kabul and Afghan Taliban has weighed down the group and it is now struggling to hold its next meeting.

A meeting of the QCG planned for the last weekend in Islamabad, according to a diplomatic source, had to be postponed at the eleventh hour because of Afghanistan expressing its unavailability for the session convened for reassessing the situation in the aftermath of Taliban’s refusal last month to attend peace talks and accordingly adjusting the roadmap.

It had not been previously made public that the meeting was scheduled for Saturday, although Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz had said last week that the fifth meeting of the QCG was being planned. He had then avoided giving any specific date for the meeting.

The intimation about the postponement went out on Friday to the participating countries, which besides hosts Pakistan include Afghanistan, US and China.

It is claimed that Afghanistan was not ready for the meeting. The source did not disclose the reason for Afghanistan’s unavailability.

Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Omar Zakhilwal had, meanwhile, in a speech at Jinnah Institute last Thursday blamed mutual mistrust as the biggest hurdle in bilateral relations and progress towards peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

“I need to be very frank and undiplomatic. I think the main hurdle to peace, the biggest obstacle to peace is Afghan-Pakistan relationship. It is the environment of mistrust; it is the environment that we suspect each other, it is the environment of practical disengagement,” he said.

Dr Zakhilwal said it was widely believed in his country that Taliban were using Pakistani soil to continue the insurgency. Privately Afghan officials say they have been let down by Pakistan, which had committed at the QCG to use its influence with Taliban to bring the insurgent group to the negotiating table.

Pakistanis on the other hand have been insisting on avoiding the derailment of the process and as Mr Aziz last week said: “A breakthrough will eventually be achieved if the process continues.”

Pakistan is now trying to arrange the QCG meeting in the third week of the current month.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Olson, who was to visit Pakistan for attending the meeting, carried on with the visit despite the postponement. He was already in the region, visiting Afghanistan with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Ambassador Olson, who had a day earlier called on Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif on Tuesday, met Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry. They discussed issues related to QCG and the efforts, though unsuccessful, made so far for persuading Taliban to join the peace process.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2016

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