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Four-nation group on Afghanistan to meet in Muscat today

Updated October 16, 2017

WASHINGTON/ ISLAMABAD: Representa­tives from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the US will meet in Muscat on Monday (today) for the first time in over a year to restart the stalled process aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Islamabad announced its plans to revive the Quad­rilateral Coordination Group (QCG) when Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif recently visited Washington for talks with senior US officials.

The four-nation group working for reconciliation in Afghanistan had been trying to initiate direct talks between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, but its efforts were derailed after the death of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a US drone strike in Balochistan in May 2016.

The last meeting of the four-state group ended without any agreement on a future strategy for bringing insurgents to the negotiating table.

In interviews to various media outlets in Washington, the foreign minister had indicated that all four nations would participate in the planned Muscat meeting and that Pakistan would play a leading role in the session.

Last week, Reuters reported that the Taliban claimed they had not yet received an invitation and planned to skip Monday’s discussions in Muscat, casting doubt on efforts to revive the long-stalled negotiations.

Tehmina Janjua to lead Pakistan delegation; US sends assistant secretary of state to today’s talks

The US delegation will be led by Alice Wells, the assistant secretary of state, a spokesperson for the US State Department told Dawn.

Recent media reports had expressed doubts about US participation in the talks, while some reports also suggested that even if it did attend the Muscat meeting, Washington may only send a junior official to indicate its interest in the peace process, without raising any hopes.

But the decision to send Ms Wells — who is also the acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan — shows that the US is maintaining the previous level of participation.

“The QCG is an established format that allows the US, Afghanistan, Pakis­tan, and China to discuss the situation in Afghanis­tan,” the State Department official said. The forum also allows the participating nations to “assess steps they can take to resolve the conflict through a negotiated political settlement,” the official added.

The Afghan delegation will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai

“[The minister] with a delegation and a representative from the high peace council went to Oman and the meeting will be held tomorrow. The meeting is aimed to review Pakistan’s commitments on talks that had been made at previous meetings,” Tolo News quoted Afghan Foreign Ministry spokes­person Shekib Mustaghni as saying on Sunday.

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, who is already in Oman, will lead the Pakistani delegation, which includes senior military officials.

On Sunday, Ms Janjua met Dr Mohammed Bin Awadh Al Hassan, Oman’s undersecretary for foreign affairs, for bilateral political consultations.

According to a statement issued by the Foreign Office, the secretary briefed her counterpart on relations with neighbouring countries, including human rights abuses in India-held Jammu and Kashmir.

The QCG first met in January 2016 and has had five sessions so far, the last being in May 2016.

The process was plagued by problems from the beginning. First the Taliban refused to join it unless they were given the same status as the Afghan government. When they were persuaded to attend, relations between Kabul and Islamabad became strained.

The first four meetings, however, did show some progress. China’s participation was particularly encouraging as both Pakistan and Afghanistan set aside their acrimony to welcome Beijing.

Pakistan hoped that China’s involvement would answer its main concern: India’s growing influence in Afghanistan, while the Afghan government hoped that China’s clout with Islamabad could have helped persuade it to improve ties with Kabul.

The international community has also welcomed the resumption of quadrilateral dialogue because all four countries are seen as crucial to ensuring the success of any peace talks on Afghanistan.

During a recent three-day visit to Washington last week, the Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said “now was the time to restart the dialogue process”, as Pakistan was losing its influence on the Taliban.

“At least for our influence on Taliban today, there is mistrust,” Mr Asif told VOA Urdu, adding that he believes Russia “today has more influence on the Taliban than Pakistan does”.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2017