Envoy shares new plans for intra-Afghan talks

Updated April 06, 2019

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Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi receives US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad at the Foreign Ministry on Friday.—AP
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi receives US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad at the Foreign Ministry on Friday.—AP

ISLAMABAD: US Special Envoy for Reconciliation in Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on Friday shared his new plans with Pakistani interlocutors for breaking the protracted impasse on intra-Afghan dialogue and getting Afghan factions to commence their negotiations.

The special envoy was visiting Pakistan as part of his regional tour to discuss the developments in his efforts for Afghan reconciliation, which despite the headway made at the last round of nearly fortnight-long US-Taliban talks in Doha in February/March, are being held back by the militant organisation’s continued refusal to talk to the Afghan government.

Ambassador Khalilzad during his latest visit met Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Foreign Secretary Tahmina Janjua and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa.

US wants to bring together all Afghan factions and begin discussions on lines of Moscow Format, says foreign minister

Mr Khalilzad would fly back to Kabul on Saturday (today). A meeting between his team and a Taliban delegation was expected in Doha around the weekend, but apparently that has been delayed.

Foreign Minister Qureshi, talking to Dawn about his meeting with Ambassador Khalilzad, said the discussions were on how to move forward. “The US wants to bring together all Afghan factions, including the government and different segments of the society, and begin discussions on the lines of the Moscow Format,” Mr Qureshi said when asked if the US diplomat was planning something new to end the stalemate on the start of intra-Afghan dialogue.

The Moscow Format is a Russian initiative that brought together regional countries and various Afghan groups for talks on ending the conflict in Afghanistan. The Moscow Format is considered a successful model because it for the first time on Feb 6 brought together Taliban and non-government Afghan politicians for discussing ways for a peaceful settlement of the Afghan conflict.

Ambassador Khalilzad had during his visit to Afghanistan, which preceded his Islamabad tour, emphasised on Afghan leaders the importance of an “inclusive Afghan negotiating team” for leading Afghan peace process.

“We agree that intra-Afghan dialogue should be comprehensive and inclusive with representatives from the Afghan government, women, young people, and civil society,” Ambassador Khalilzad had tweeted after a meeting with Afghan leaders. This implies that the special envoy has been pushing for a proposal under which an inclusive group engages Taliban instead of the Afghan government sitting face to face with the insurgent group due to the latter’s persistent refusal to meet the former. However, it remains to be seen if the Ghani administration will agree to it.

Mr Qureshi said he was “optimistic” despite the challenges and presence of forces that would try to impede the process.

The Foreign Office said in a statement that Ambassador Khalilzad during his meeting with FM Qureshi briefed him on the outcome of Doha talks and his recent engagements in the region, including Afghanistan. The special envoy, it said, shared “the dynamics of the intra-Afghan dialogue”.

Mr Qureshi reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to the peace process. He said intra-Afghan dialogue was a vital component of the reconciliation process. He also said Islamabad wished well for peace and stability in Afghanistan which would directly benefit Pakistan’s own vision for economic and human development, the FO said.

Ambassador Khalilzad earlier held delegation level talks with Foreign Secretary Janjua. Ambassador Khalilzad was accompanied by an interagency delegation, while Ms Janjua was assisted by a team of officials from the ministries of foreign affairs and defence.

The foreign secretary underscored that “progress on Afghanistan peace efforts” was in mutual interest of Pakistan and the US. The two agreed to remain engaged to pursue the reconciliation process, the FO said.

Ambassador Khalilzad, Mr Qureshi said, was planning to travel to Moscow where he would hold a meeting with representatives of Russia and China on Afghan peace.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2019