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WASHINGTON: Pakistan is apparently pushing for the rehabilitation of the Taliban leadership in a future setup in Afghanistan, as both Washing­ton and Kabul increase efforts to end the Afghan insurgency.

“There’s a precedence for this in the rehabilitation of Gulbadin Hekmatyar,” says Pakistan’s Ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary, pointing out that the former rebel leader was not only accommodated in the political setup in Kabul but his name was also expunged from a UN list of recognised terrorists to create space for him. “A similar arrangement can also be made with the Taliban,” he said.

Ambassador Chaudhary’s comments, in a talk to the Women’s Foreign Policy Group at the embassy in Washington this week, come amid enhanced activities to find a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict.

“We know a lot is going on right now … this offer … is being considered [by the Taliban]. We haven’t seen a public response [to the dialogue offer] which is interesting,” he said.

Ambassador Chaudhary referred to a statement by US Defence Secretary James Mattis while explaining why he felt chances for reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban were greater now.

Mr Chaudhary said he was aware of the efforts being made in Washington, Islamabad and Kabul to nurture these initial steps towards Taliban-Kabul reconciliation. “Chances for peace are brighter now than before. There are positive signs from all sides,” he said. “We welcome these efforts.”

The ambassador said Pakistan had always stressed the need for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan because it believed that no military solution would work.

“Enough bloodshed. Almost 10,000 people are getting killed every year. It must stop now,” said the ambassador while explaining why Pakistan wanted the peace process to succeed.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2018