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Pakistan steps up efforts to salvage stalled US-Taliban talks

Updated January 18, 2019

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RAWALPINDI: Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, Commander Resolute Support Mission Gen Austin Scott Miller and other members of US delegation meet Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Headquarters on Thursday.—APP
RAWALPINDI: Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, Commander Resolute Support Mission Gen Austin Scott Miller and other members of US delegation meet Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Headquarters on Thursday.—APP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday affirmed its continued support for the Afghan peace and reconciliation process as it stepped up efforts for salvaging the stalled talks between the United States and Taliban.

The assurance was extended by the country’s highest political and military offices against the backdrop of breakdown in the US contacts with the Taliban, which were being facilitated by Pakistan, due to the militant group’s persistent refusal to engage with the Afghan government.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a telephonic conversation with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, reassured the latter that Pakistan was making “sincere efforts” for a politically negotiated settlement of the Afghan war.

PM Imran, President Ghani agree to resolve all outstanding issues; Gen Bajwa assures Zalmay Khalilzad of continuous efforts for peace and stability in region

The Prime Minister Office in a statement said that President Ghani had called PM Khan to discuss recent developments relating to the reconciliation process and thanked him for “Pakistan’s sincere facilitation”. The two leaders agreed “to remain engaged and create an environment for resolving all outstanding issues”, it further said.

Pakistan had last month facilitated a meeting between the US and Taliban to pave the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue. The meeting was also attended by representatives of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Despite the Abu Dhabi meeting, which was said to have ended on a positive note, the Taliban have continued to refuse to talk to the Afghan government. Their refusal has now become a major roadblock for the continuation of the engagement.

Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal in his media briefing recalled that direct talks between the US and Taliban were facilitated by Pakistan in pursuance of its long-held position that the solution to the conflict in Afghanistan lies in an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. “Intra-Afghan dialogue is crucial for success and sustainability of peace process in Afghanistan,” he emphasised.

Meanwhile, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa told US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad during a meeting at the General Headquarters that Pakistan would continue “efforts for bringing peace and stability in the region”.

Ambassador Khalilzad, who was initially scheduled to visit Islamabad on Tuesday, was accompanied at the meeting by Commander Resolute Support Mission Gen Austin Scott Miller, senior US presidential aide Lisa Curtis and other officials.

The US special envoy and his delegation earlier held talks with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua at the Foreign Office.

Ms Janjua reiterated that Pakistan was facilitating the process for peace and stability in the region. She underlined that taking the Afghan peace process forward was a shared responsibility.

“Both sides agreed that ultimately the intra-Afghan dialogue would be vital to agree upon the contours of a future Afghan polity where Afghanistan becomes a stable and prosperous country and at peace with its neighbours,” an FO statement said.

Ambassador Khalilzad had on completion of his meetings in Kabul on Wednesday adopted a tough tone on the lingering stalemate in the process, suggesting that the US was ready for both fighting and talking. Talking to journalists in Kabul, he stressed that the Taliban should negotiate with the Afghan government. “If Taliban want to talk, we can talk. If they want to fight, we can fight,” he added.

In a tweet, he later said that it was agreed in his meetings with Afghan leaders that “military pressure is essential while we prepare to engage in negotiations for peace”.

VoA, while quoting unnamed sources, reported that Pakistani authorities were making efforts to arrange a meeting between Ambassador Khalilzad and Taliban representatives to break the logjam. The VoA report said Pakistani officials appeared confident about bringing the two sides to the table.

However, the official sources cited in the report maintained that the responsibility for the “success or failure” of the fledgling Afghan peace process rested “exclusively” with the two negotiating sides.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2019