Pakistan willing to use ‘little influence’ it has with Afghan Taliban to help peace talks

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is scheduled to visit Kabul to meet with top civilian and military leaders. (Reuters)
Updated 13 December 2018
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Pakistan willing to use ‘little influence’ it has with Afghan Taliban to help peace talks

  • Islamabad says ready to host direct negotiations between Kabul and Taliban
  • Pakistan foreign minister headed to Afghanistan for high-level talks on Dec. 15

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is willing to use its “little influence” with the Afghan Taliban to resurrect faltering peace talks between the Kabul government and the insurgency, foreign office officials said, just days before Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is scheduled to visit Kabul to meet with top civilian and military leaders.

US officials have long pushed Pakistan to use its influence with Taliban leaders, who Washington says are based inside Pakistan, to bring them to the negotiating table and end a 17-year war. Islamabad vehemently denies it is covertly sheltering Taliban leaders.

“We can facilitate the peace process by using our little influence over the Afghan Taliban,” a foreign office official with knowledge of the talks told Arab News on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media about the issue.

“Pakistan is willing to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table but obviously is not in a position to forge a peace agreement with them. The modalities and all other relevant things are to be decided by the US as it is the major stakeholder,” he said.

However, he said that the Taliban seemed “least interested” in engaging with the Afghan government at a time when the next presidential elections were scheduled to be held in April next year. He said the US and Afghanistan had to mutually decide if they wanted to delay the presidential elections so the present dispensation could better engage with the Taliban or if they wanted a new government with a full five-year mandate to broker a peace deal.

Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump asked for Pakistan’s help with Afghan peace talks in a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“The peace process has started and the good thing is that the US has finally agreed to find a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict,” foreign office spokesman Dr. Mohammad Faisal told Arab News. “Pakistan is ready to play its role and our foreign minister will convey this to the Afghan leadership.”

Addressing a ceremony in Multan last week, Foreign Minister Qureshi said it was a testament to the robustness of Pakistan’s foreign policy that the US had asked for assistance in resolving the Afghan conflict, adding that he would visit Kabul on Dec. 15 to hold talks with the “Afghan leadership on political reconciliation and durable peace in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan is committed to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, the minister added.

During last week’s visit to Pakistan of the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, Islamabad had expressed its willingness to host direct talks between representatives of the Afghan government and leaders of the Taliban if all stakeholders, including the US, agreed on a common agenda for the meeting.

“We have conveyed this to the US during the recent visit of Zalmay Khalilzad, but obviously nothing is final at this stage as different options for peace in Afghanistan are being explored,” the foreign office official said.

Last month, Khalilzad said that he hoped a peace deal would be reached by April 2019. But Afghan Taliban militants have repeatedly said that they have not accepted any deadline and that a three-day meeting in Qatar between their leaders and Khalilzad in October ended with no agreement.

In July 2015, Pakistan arranged the first official meeting of representatives of the Kabul government and the Taliban in Murree, a hill resort near Islamabad. Observers from the US and China also attended the talks. The process was, however, scuttled after the death of Taliban chief Mullah Omar, throwing fledgling efforts to negotiate into disarray.

Last week, the Afghan president constituted a 12-member committee to hold direct talks with the Taliban, but they have yet to get a nod from the militants.

Rahimullah Yousufzai, an expert on Taliban affairs, said that Pakistan can help to arrange meetings of the Taliban with the US and the Afghan government by using its influence but “there is still a long way to go.”

“The Taliban are seeking a schedule of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and until the US agrees to that, there are little chances of moving ahead,” he told Arab News, adding that Pakistan could facilitate negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban as it had in the past but “nothing more than that.”

“Taliban’s international recognition has increased manifold in the past years and they are now least dependent on Pakistan’s help,” Yousafzai said.

A senior security official privy to talks said that no peace deal was possible without the ownership of the process by the Afghan people: “Right now, the biggest question is, do the Afghan people even accept this process?”


Explosions hit Afghan celebration, Helmand governor hurt

Updated 23 March 2019
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Explosions hit Afghan celebration, Helmand governor hurt

  • The bombing disrupted Farmers Day celebrations
  • The cause of the explosion is not yet identified

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan: Two explosions went off at a public celebration in the southern Afghan city of Lashkar Gah on Saturday, killing two people and wounding the governor of Helmand province, security and hospital officials said.

The blasts came during a Farmers Day celebration at an outdoor stadium that was attended by nearly 1,000 people.

The provincial governor, Mohammad Yasin Khan, was knocked over by the blasts before he was quickly removed from the celebration, according to a Reuters witness. The governor’s condition was unclear.

Two people were killed and 23 were wounded, according to initial estimates by hospital officials.

The blasts appeared to have been caused by planted explosives.

The attack is one of several to occur during Afghanistan’s multi-day celebrations to mark its traditional new year, beginning with explosions in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Thursday. Those attacks killed six people and wounded 23 and were claimed by Islamic State.

The traditional new year is widely celebrated in Afghanistan but some hard-line Islamists oppose the festivities, saying they are un-Islamic.

Helmand is one of several Afghan provinces in which insurgents have the greatest control and influence. Lashkar Gah is the provincial capital.

Saturday’s attack came exactly one year after a car bomb killed at least 14 people who had gathered to watch a wrestling match in Lashkar Gah.