ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office has confirmed that Pakistan will attend a meeting of 12 countries on April 14 in Moscow, which is aimed at developing a regional approach for peace in Afghanistan.
The level of participation would be decided later, FO spokesman Nafees Zakaria said at a weekly media briefing here on Thursday. Pakistan, he recalled, had been actively participating in processes and events related to Afghan peace out of its commitment to peace and stability in Afghanistan.
He expressed the hope that the upcoming Moscow event would focus on the objective of restoring peace and stability to the war-torn country.
FO neither denies nor confirms Taliban visit to Islamabad; insurgent group rejects reports about trip
The United States, it should be recalled, has decided to stay away from the event, saying it does not know Russia’s objectives for the gathering.
As the Foreign Office chose not to confirm or deny a reported visit of the Afghan Taliban to Islamabad for discussion on peace talks, the latter categorically denied that their leaders visited Pakistan or met officials here.
“We do not comment on media reports. Pakistan firmly believes in an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process aimed at bringing all warring factions, including the Taliban, to the negotiating table,” Mr Zakaria said.
He was responding to a question about an Associated Press report which claimed that Pakistan had last week hosted seven Taliban leaders in Islamabad to try and press them into peace talks ahead of the multination meeting in Moscow.
Almost around the time Mr Zakaria refrained from giving a categorical reply to questions about the visit, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid refuted the claims about the visit.
“We strongly reject [the media reports] because none of our leaders has travelled to Islamabad, nor has he met any official there,” Mr Mujahid told VoA.
Analysts also sounded sceptical about a Taliban delegation visiting Islamabad because the insurgent group is on the verge of starting this year’s ‘spring offensive’ and has already upped its activities as seen in the capture of Helmand’s Sangin district over the past couple of days and attack on NDS (National Directorate of Security) offices in Lashkargah.
Moreover, the Moscow event is a meeting of the states and there seems to be no space for an insurgent group attending it.
Taliban do not normally talk peace around their spring offensive and even last year they had just ahead of their annual offensive in March refused to consider a Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) initiative for peace talks.
About Taliban’s participation in the Moscow meeting, the FO spokesman said: “You may confirm from Russians regarding Afghan Taliban’s participation.”
In his statement, Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban would comment once they received an invitation.
Mr Zakaria, while responding to a question about Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz’s meeting with Afghan National Security Adviser Haneef Atmar in London, said it was about developing a mechanism for counterterrorism cooperation.
The spokesman expressed the hope that the two countries would work through the agreed mechanism for cooperation for preventing cross-border terrorism and enhancing bilateral interaction in different areas.
The agreement in London paved the way for reopening of the border crossings which had been closed last month after a surge in terrorist attacks in Pakistan blamed on sanctuaries on Afghan soil.
Repeating the denial about presence of the militant Islamic State group in Pakistan, Mr Zakaria said US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had expressed his concern over IS’s efforts to recruit people from different countries.
Secretary Tillerson was speaking at a ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition: Meeting on the Defeat of ISIS. The event was attended by over 60 countries and was said to be the first full meeting of the coalition formed in 2014. The meeting was for strategising against the IS.
Since Pakistan is not a member of the coalition, it had not been invited to the multinational meeting.
“The recruitment could be done from any country from amongst the vulnerable people. On our part, we are determined to thwart any such attempt by any terrorist organisation,” Mr Zakaria said.
Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2017