No headway in four-nation talks on Afghan peace

Updated May 19, 2016

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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry (centre L) chairs the fifth round of four-way peace talks with Afghanistan, US and Chinese delegates at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad.─APP
ISLAMABAD: Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry (centre L) chairs the fifth round of four-way peace talks with Afghanistan, US and Chinese delegates at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad.─APP

ISLAMABAD: The four-nation initiative for reconciliation in Afghanistan is faced with an uncertain future as it failed to make headway amid growing differences among the participating countries over dealing with the Taliban.

The fifth meeting of the Quadri­la­teral Coordination Group (QCG) of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China ended on Wednes­day without any agreement on a future strategy for bringing the in­­surgents to the negotiating table and without any agreed date or venue for the next meeting of the group.

With the Afghan government lowering its representation at the group to an ambassadorial level, it was clear from the start of the meeting that Kabul was not much interested in its proceedings.

Afghanistan, which was represented at the previous sessions by Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, was at Wednesday’s meeting represented by its envoy in Islamabad Omar Zakhilwal.

Ambassador Zakhilwal, in his comments at the meeting, questioned the efficacy of the group and said: “You would agree that the paperwork of the QCG, as significant as it has been, has not yet been matched by the deliveries expected. Peace talks did not begin as we announced; violence in my country did not recede. The spring offensive by the Taliban was launched.”


Kabul questions efficacy of quadrilateral group


He regretted that in such a situation it was difficult for the Afghan government to sustain political support for the initiative and said that for the QCG to “remain relevant and useful we must show real progress on our intended aims and deliver on our commitments, as per the QCG roadmap”.

Afghanistan’s expectation from the QCG meeting was that the US and China would pressure Islamabad to launch action against the Haqqani network and other Taliban insurgents, who are said to be living in Pakistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani made that clear last week when he said: “All four (QCG) states are committed to a roadmap and their obligations, particularly by the state of Pakistan. Those obligations are that if Taliban groups prove irreconcilable then there will be use of force. We are waiting for that decision.”

But Pakistan has remained firmly opposed to any such suggestion.

Pakistani officials, in background discussions, cite a number of reasons for not acting against the Taliban.

They question the commitment of the Afghan government and fear that any action could have serious security implications for Pakistan. They further contend that action cannot be taken against the insurgents who are to be engaged in negotiations.

“The Afghan government is not behaving maturely. Its responses have been weak,” an official privy to the discussions said in a background interview.

The renewed acrimony between Islamabad and Kabul following increased Taliban violence in Afghanistan is also cited as another reason for lack of progress on the peace initiative.

Pakistani officials had previously suggested that any agreement on action against the Taliban on its soil must come through consensus among the QCG members.

But, according to a diplomatic source, the idea was immediately vetoed by China which said the QCG was only about dialogue.

Resultantly, the QCG meeting ended with formula denunciation of violence and a commitment by the participating countries to “use their respective leverages and influences”.

As a consolation for Kabul, the QCG resolved that those who perpetrated acts like the April 19 bombing in Kabul should be “ready to face consequences of their actions”.

Pakistan had earlier conveyed to Afghanistan that it had no proof of involvement of any Pakistan-based group in the attack. “We conducted a detailed investigation and found no evidence of either Pakistani involvement or of any Pakistan-based element. It was basically an indigenous terrorist action,” Special Assistant to the PM on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi had said a few days ago.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2016