ISLAMABAD: Quadrilateral talks on Afghan peace process on Friday called for creation of an environment conducive to negotiating an agreement that could end the conflict that has just entered its 19th year.
The participating countries — Pakistan, China, Russia and the United States — that were represented through their senior diplomats at the meeting held in Moscow believe that reduction in hostilities by Afghan government and the Taliban and resumption of talks between the US and Taliban, which have been suspended since last month, could help in commencement of the intra-Afghan process, long thought to be the best bet for reaching a negotiated settlement of the dispute.
This was the upshot of the discussions at the second round of the quadrilateral format that began in Beijing in July this year. The quartet was born out of a trilateral process between China, Russia and US, which also held their separate consultations in Moscow.
One of the key objectives of the talks was to review the stalemate in the peace process since US-Taliban dialogue broke down last month. The two sides were then close to clinching a historic agreement that would have led to start of the intra-Afghan process.
Diplomats from US, Pakistan, China and Russia hold talks on Afghan peace in Moscow
The communiqué issued from Moscow said: “Russia, China and Pakistan expressed their support for the earliest resumption of the negotiation process and reaching an agreement between the United States of America and the Taliban movement, which will pave the way for launching intra-Afghan talks.”
The four countries at their Moscow meeting further “urged all sides to immediately reduce violence” to create “an environment conducive for negotiations”.
Both the Afghan government forces and Taliban have over the past few months stepped up their hostilities. Since July there has been a marked increase in the Taliban attacks, resulting in more civilians casualties.
The latest UN report revealed that more civilians were killed in the last quarter than during any single quarter in the past decade. A total of 1,174 civilians were killed between July and September this year.
This casualty figure comprises a very high proportion of women and children. Meanwhile, 85 civilian deaths were caused by Taliban attacks during the recently-held presidential polls.
A secret meeting between US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad with Afghan Taliban leaders in Islamabad earlier this month had, meanwhile, raised hopes of the stalled dialogue being resumed soon. Those hopes were fuelled by the Taliban during their Islamabad trip, when they endorsed calls for early revival of their talks with the US.
In anticipation of the US-Taliban process resuming soon and leading to the start of the intra-Afghan dialogue, the four countries shared their ideas and expectations from the process.
They hoped that Afghan forces and Taliban could hold a ceasefire during the course of the intra-Afghan talks in order to help reach a political agreement. Similarly, they expected that both sides would, as a confidence-building measure, release “significant number” of prisoners at the start of the intra-Afghan process.
Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2019