ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday cautioned the United States that a historic opportunity to end conflict in Afghanistan could be lost if Washington did not act fast to clinch a deal with the Taliban.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, while talking to Dawn after a meeting with US special envoy for Afghan peace and reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, said that “spoilers could exploit the status quo if it prolongs”.
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About his conversation, he said: “I emphasised that there is no military solution to the conflict and if a political solution has to be achieved then the progress made towards a political settlement [in talks between the US and Taliban over the past year] needs to be consolidated. It should not be lost.”
Ambassador Khalilzad, according to the Foreign Office, updated Mr Qureshi on developments in negotiations with the Taliban and other related issues.
The US and Taliban had a couple of weeks ago resumed their contacts in Doha, which some observers describe as informal, after a pause in their negotiations following the Bagram attack by the insurgent group in December.
US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad meets Foreign Minister Qureshi, Gen Bajwa
Both sides claimed progress in their latest discussion. Spokesman for Taliban political office Suhail Shaheen had, meanwhile, said the two sides talked about the ceremony for the signing of the agreement. The deal, however, remains elusive.
The Taliban reportedly offered reduction in violence, but the United States did not seem satisfied with its scope. Details of Taliban offer are not known publicly, but some media reports claimed that the Taliban were ready for a ceasefire for a brief period to allow for signing of the deal.
The content of the agreement had almost been agreed earlier in September when US President Donald Trump abruptly ended engagement with the Taliban after the Kabul attack. Currently, the discussion is on the conditions under which the agreement would be signed.
Mr Qureshi said that a lot now depends on whether or not reduction in violence happens. “This is the main challenge or a pre-requisite” for the signing of the accord, he added.
“It is an important stage, we have to wait and see what happens,” Mr Qureshi remarked. He asserted that it was a “historic opportunity”, which should not be allowed to drift away.
It is feared that the longer the US-Taliban negotiations prolong, the greater would be the risk of the process getting derailed. A single major attack in Afghanistan against US forces can bring all progress towards an agreement to naught. Crash of a US military plane in Ghazni this week renewed those concerns.
The Foreign Office, meanwhile, in a statement said that Mr Qureshi assured Mr Khalilzad that Pakistan, which played a key role in facilitating the Afghan peace process, would continue its efforts for a positive outcome.
Ambassador Khalilzad later visited GHQ for a meeting with Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa.
“During the meeting, matters of mutual interest, including overall regional security situation and ongoing Afghanistan reconciliation process, were discussed. Mr Khalilzad thanked Pakistan for facilitating the process towards the mutual objective of peace in the region,” the Inter-Services Public Relations said.
US travel advisory
Pakistan has termed the update in the US travel advisory, which has acknowledged that “Pakistan’s security environment has improved”, a step in the right direction.
The FO said in statement that Pakistan had made resolute efforts to enhance security throughout the country. “Significant improvement in the security environment has led the United Nations to re-designate Islamabad as a family station for its personnel. Recently, the United Kingdom, while acknowledging the measures taken by Pakistan, has revised its travel advisory which is a welcome development. The positive decisions by Portugal and Norway with regard to their travel advisories for Pakistan also reflect the confidence of these European governments in Pakistan’s security environment.”
Pakistan has also been declared as one of the “Best Holiday Destinations for 2020” by the award-winning travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler.
“With Pakistan’s liberal visa regime and conducive environment for tourism, we are confident that larger number of tourists from all over the world would be travelling to Pakistan. People of Pakistan are ready to welcome foreign tourists in the country,” the statement said.
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2020