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ISLAMABAD: A recent visit by Taliban representatives to Pakistan may not have yielded any breakthrough towards the start of Afghan peace dialogue, but left Pakistani officials hopeful about prospects of talks.

“The Taliban did not say no,… they are now introspecting and reassessing the situation,” a senior official said in a background discussion on the Taliban visit.

A three-member delegation from Taliban’s political office in Qatar comprising Shahabuddin Dilawar, Jan Muhammad Madni and Mullah Abbas visited Pakistan last week for “exploratory meetings” with Pakistani officials.

The official said that Taliban’s future strategy might depend on the situation of war in Afghanistan and Afghan government’s position vis-à-vis peace negotiations.

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, while talking to reporters at Institute of Strategic Studies a day earlier, said that although Taliban had announced the Spring Offensive, they had not undertaken any major operation, which gave hope that “if the ground situation remains stable, peace talks may commence soon”.

The official believed that if the stalemate persisted in the fighting in Afghanistan and Kabul showed more clarity in its position on talks, the Taliban could be wooed back to the negotiating table.

Taliban had in March refused to join the peace process failing an attempt by a Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) on reconciliation comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan, US and China to help start direct talks between the Afg­han government and the insurgents.

The official did not give any timeframe, but said preliminary contacts for talks might happen, which might eventually help, when the dialogue formally commenced.

The Afghan government had, following a gun and bomb attack in Kabul, hardened its stance on reconciliation and renewed demands for action against Taliban, whom it accused of having sanctuaries on Pakistani soil.

Mr Aziz had dismissed the demand for use of force against Taliban saying it was unfeasible and reconciliation efforts needed to be given time.

“Our position has been that the military option has been tried for 14 years, but has failed to resolve the issue. Reconciliation cannot succeed in two or four weeks. We do not see any other way for achieving peace,” the adviser said.

The Afghan government insists that Pakistan had committed to acting against the Taliban, if they do not join the peace process.

The Pakistanis agree that the roadmap agreed by the QCG had an element about the strategy for dealing with the Taliban if the dialogue does not take place, but they believe that things have not as yet reached that point.

They contend that any future course of action, including the option of the use of force against Taliban, would have to be decided by the QCG through consensus.

The four-nation grouping has not met since it failed to hold talks as per the agreed time frame, but the official said that consultations were taking place for scheduling the next meeting.

The official said the QCG would meet whenever the future direction on Afghanistan peace had been decided.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2016