ISLAMABAD: The For­e­ign Office subtly admitted on Tuesday that a move to resuscitate the troubled Afghan peace and reconciliation process was under way.

“Pakistan, along with other QCG [Quadrilateral Coordination Group] countries, was engaged in serious efforts for early direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban under the principle of shared commitment,” Foreign Sec­retary Aizaz Chaudhry said at the Heart of Asia Senior Officials meeting in Delhi.

FO spokesman Nafees Zakaria, in a separate statement issued in Islamabad, closely echoed the foreign secretary as he said: “Pakistan is making serious efforts for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.”

The two statements, though made in different contexts, came amidst repo­rts that a three-member Taliban delegation and US Deputy Special Represen­tative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Jonathan Carpen­ter were visiting Pakistan for exploratory discussions on the Afghan peace process.

The Taliban delegation comprises Shahabuddin Dilawar, Jan Mohammad Madni and Mullah Abbas Akhund, all of whom are associated with the insurgent group’s political office in Doha, Qatar. The Taliban say that their Qatar office is mandated to hold peace talks on their behalf.

Simultaneous visits by the Taliban delegation and senior US diplomat are being seen as meaningful by those closely following the developments in the reconciliation process, although there is no official word, as yet, on the meetings the two have been holding in Pakistan.

The latest effort comes against the backdrop of the start of Spring Offensive by the Taliban in Afghanistan and a massive bomb and gun attack in Kabul last week, which left dozens dead.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has taken a harsher line on reconciliation with insurgents after the latest attack. Speaking at a joint session of Afghan parliament on Monday, Mr Ghani stopped short of calling off the peace process, but said his government “has ended its efforts in calling for peace and will now use all its resources to defend the country”.

Mr Ghani also called on Pakistan to fulfil its pledge of acting against the Afghan Taliban sanctuaries on its soil.

A source familiar with the developments said the US was holding “exploratory discussions” with Pakistan for overcoming the stalemate in efforts for peace.

The US, it is said, is cautiously testing the waters, given the previous false starts.

Another Western diplomatic observer said he was convinced that Pakistani authorities were making another attempt to facilitate a dialogue with the militants.

The QCG, a four-nation initiative for facilitating the Afghan reconciliation process involving Pakistan, Afghanistan, the US and China, had earlier in February / March attempted to open direct talks between Kabul and Taliban insurgents, but that endeavour failed after the latter refused to join the process.

Following its failure to convene the peace talks, the QCG is itself struggling to meet again and re-launch peace efforts.

China is visibly missing from the latest attempt to overcome the impasse before peace talks.

A Chinese source confirmed that Beijing was not involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations in Islamabad involving the Pakistanis, Americans and the Taliban.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2016

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