ISLAMABAD / WASHINGTON: The Foreign Office on Sunday urged all parties to Afghan conflict to take advantage of the situation and achieve a political settlement of the 17-year-old conflict.
The call was made as US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad opened the Pakistan leg of his 16-day multi-nation trip with a meeting at the Foreign Office. During the talks at Foreign Office, Mr Khalilzad led his side, whereas Additional Secretary, Americas, Ambassador Aftab Khokher headed Pakistani delegation.
“In line with prime minister’s vision, Pakistan reiterated its commitment for peace. It encouraged all sides to seize the moment to end the prolonged conflict through political settlement,” FO spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal tweeted after the meeting.
Zalmay welcomes Taliban chief’s Eid message
US and Taliban have so far held six rounds of talks in Doha and reached a draft agreement under which foreign troops were to leave Afghanistan after assurances from the Taliban that they wouldn’t allow terrorists to use Afghan soil for attacking other countries. However, the dialogue was stalemated on the other two elements of the deal — reduction in violence leading to ceasefire and initiation of intra-Afghan dialogue.
Mr Khalilzad has said that he would “try to bring the first two parts of our peace framework to closure. We are moving forward. I am optimistic. Success will require other parties to show flexibility”.
From the special envoy’s statement it appeared that the US was looking towards partially concluding the deal with an agreement on the first two parts. He had earlier insisted that there can be no deal without an agreement on all four elements. “Nothing will be final until we agree on all four issues,” he had said a month ago.
Mr Khalilzad both welcomed and criticised Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada’s Eid message in which he had called on the US to accept the “logical proposals” given by the Taliban for taking peace negotiations forward.
He had said: “The Taliban leader’s Eid statement provides some welcome support for the Afghan peace process and a desire to participate in dialogue with other Afghans and in a final political settlement that will require power sharing. All good things.”
However, he criticised the “bombastic tone” of the statement and warned that it could unnecessarily “complicate and disrupt” progress in peace talks.
While Taliban have been refusing to a US facilitated meeting with Afghan government, they have continued an engagement with Afghan political leaders under a Russian sponsored initiative. They met Afghan politicians for another round of talks from May 28 -30 in Moscow. Both Taliban and Afghan politicians reported progress during the meeting.
In an important endorsement for the Taliban position of troops withdrawal, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey has also called for the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Imran-Ghani meeting hailed
“Welcome the news that President Ashraf Ghani & PM Imran Khan met on the margins of the OIC Summit,” Mr Khalilzad wrote in a tweet.
“Improved Af-Pak ties are key to reaching, implementing and capitalizing on opportunities for regional connectivity, integration and development. [The] US stands ready to assist the Afghan peace process.”
Mr Khalilzad, who attended a joint meeting of Central Asian ambassadors in Washington before leaving on his seventh peace mission, also emphasised the need for regional support for the peace process.
“Equally important is to start planning for how best to seize opportunities for increased regional connectivity, integration, and development that peace will offer,” he wrote.
Mr Khalilzad said he made substantial progress over the last month when he held the sixth round of talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, and also visited other regional capitals. “On this trip, I want to take that momentum and accelerate the Afghan Peace Process,” he wrote.
The US envoy said his current trip focuses specifically on two key points: integrate regional and international support for peace and try to bring the first two parts of a peace framework to closure.
The US and Taliban had agreed on a framework during earlier rounds of the Doha talks but it did not lead to a ceasefire in Afghanistan, as Washington had expected, or an understanding on the withdrawal of foreign troops, as the Taliban wanted.
“We are moving forward. I am optimistic. Success will require other parties to show flexibility. Nothing agreed until everything agreed,” Mr Khalilzad wrote.
Akhundzada’s Eid message
In his annual message on Saturday, Mullah Akhundzada pledged to continue fighting until the group’s objectives were reached, ignoring Kabul’s appeal for an Eid ceasefire.
“No one should expect us to pour cold water on the heated battlefronts of Jihad or forget our 40-year sacrifices before reaching our objectives,” he said in the message, adding that the Taliban aimed for “an end to the occupation and establishment of an Islamic system”. The Taliban chief boasted that foreign forces in Afghanistan were “condemned to defeat”, but said the insurgents would continue talks with the US.
Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2019