Pakistan says Afghan peace talks ‘complex’ amid hopes for breakthrough

Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation calls on Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan at the prime minster office in Islamabad on Jan. 18, 2019. (PID photo)
Updated 19 January 2019
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Pakistan says Afghan peace talks ‘complex’ amid hopes for breakthrough

  • Taliban deny meeting US special envoy in Islamabad
  • After initial flurry of meetings, dialogue now stalled

ISLAMABAD, KABUL: US-backed peace talks with the Afghan Taliban are part of a "complex process," Pakistan's foreign office spokesman said on Saturday, as insurgents rejected reports they were prepared to resume meetings with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad. 
Since their last meeting in Abu Dhabi in December, dialogue between the US and the Taliban to find a negotiated settlement to an 18-year-long war in Afghanistan has largely stalled, particularly over the US insistence that insurgents talk directly with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. 
The Taliban have so far refused direct talks with the Kabul government which they see as an illegitimate, foreign-appointed regime, and consider their main adversary to be the US, which invaded the country in 2001 and toppled their rule. 
“It [negotiations] is a complex process. It isn’t a casual thing and cannot be decided in a meeting or two,” Foreign Office spokesman Dr. Mohammad Faisal told Arab News on Saturday, calling the peace talks “a sensitive issue that needs to be handled carefully.”
Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Thursday to pursue diplomatic efforts to push forward talks with the Afghan Taliban and met with top civilian and military leaders, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“I look forward to concrete progress,” Khalilzad tweeted after his meeting with the Pakistani foreign minister, adding that Pakistan had assured him of support for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
U.S. and Afghan officials have long been pushing Pakistan to lean on Taliban leaders, who they say are based inside Pakistan, to bring them to the table for talks. Pakistani officials deny offering safe havens to the Afghan Taliban and say their influence on the group has waned over the years.
“Pakistan fully supports the process and is playing its role for a negotiated settlement,” the foreign office spokesman said. “Negotiations are underway and nothing can be ruled out at this stage.” 
Khalilzad has held at least three rounds of talks with the Taliban in recent months, with the last round taking place in the United Arab Emirates in December, in the presence of representatives from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
In a statement sent to media, the Afghan Taliban rejected Pakistani media reports that Taliban officials had met with Khalilzad in Islamabad.
“The rumors about a meeting between representatives of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) with American envoy Khalilzad in Islamabad are not true,” Zabihullah Mujahid said. 
A Taliban leader told Reuters peace talks with the US delegation could resume if a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, an exchange of prisoners and lifting a ban on the movement of Taliban leaders were the only issues discussed. 
“The Taliban seem unwilling to revive talks with the US until a schedule of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is given to them,” Taliban affairs expert Rahimullah Yousufzai said. “Pakistan is using its influence, but nothing concrete is achieved so far.”
Indeed, to avoid pressure from Pakistan, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, the Taliban have said they prefer to hold talks with the U.S. envoy in Qatar where the Taliban have had an office for years.
For now, talks have stalled and there is no clarity on when they will be resumed.  
"Peace efforts have indeed run into some difficulties, perhaps because the initial facilitating and confidence building steps were burdened by over-enthusiastic demands and unrealistic expectations," said Omar Zakhilwal, a former Afghan ambassador to Islamabad. "Suspicions and rivalries among regional stakeholders have also not helped."


Trump policies unite allies against him at European security forum

Updated 1 min 4 sec ago
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Trump policies unite allies against him at European security forum

  • “America will be back” once Donald Trump leaves office, Biden won a standing ovation at the Munich Security Conference
MUNICH: In 2009, then-US Vice President Joe Biden came to Munich to “press the reset button” with Russia. A decade later he came again to offer the world better relations, this time with his own country.
Promising that “America will be back” once Donald Trump leaves office, Biden won a standing ovation at the Munich Security Conference from delegates who find the president’s brusque foreign policy stance hard to like.
But their elation also exposed the weakened state of Western diplomacy in the face of Trump’s assertiveness, according to European diplomats and politicians who were present.
Biden’s successor, Mike Pence, was met with silence at a reception in the palatial Bavarian Parliament on Friday evening after he delivered his signature line: “I bring you greetings from the 45th president of the United States, President Donald Trump.”
His four-day trip to Europe succeeded only in deepening divisions with traditional allies over questions such as Iran and Venezuela and offered little hope in how to deal with threats ranging from nuclear arms to climate change, diplomats and officials said.
Misgivings about Washington’s role in the world are being felt by ordinary people as well as foreign policy specialists.
In Germany and France, half the population see US power as a threat, up sharply from 2013 and a view shared by 37 percent of Britons, the Washington-based Pew Research Center said in a report before the Munich foreign policy gathering.
Asked about European anxiety over Trump’s leadership style, a senior US official on Pence’s Air Force Two plane said the vice president’s Munich conference speech on Saturday at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof would “help give them a different perspective.”
But if the Europeans did not like the “America First” message, there was no concerted response to it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was on her own after a last-minute cancelation by French President Emmanuel Macron.
That caused some to lament the failure of the West to uphold the rules-based international order that Washington itself championed in the 70 years that preceded the arrival of Trump in the White House.
“The tit-for-tat logic is unfortunately prevailing ... I think that takes us back to the question of enlightened leadership,” said Thomas Greminger, secretary general of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a security and human rights watchdog.
“We need leaders again who do not believe exclusively in short-termism,” he told Reuters.
It fell to China to aid Merkel in her defense of the post-World War Two order, as the country’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, spoke in flawless English for over 20 minutes about the virtues of open trade and global cooperation.
Pence’s message was, in fact, that the pillars of US foreign policy were being rebuilt on a different foundation: isolating Iran, containing China, bringing American troops home and requiring European powers to fall into line.
After using a speech in Warsaw on Thursday to accuse Britain, France and Germany of trying to undermine US sanctions on Iran, Pence called in Munich for the European Union to recognize Venezuelan congressional leader Juan Guaido as president over Nicolas Maduro, whom he called a dictator.
That drew an angry response from Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, who said the European Union could acknowledge Guaido as interim president until new elections, in line with the Venezuelan constitution.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves LeDrian said he was mystified by US policy on Syria after Trump’s decision to withdraw troops because it would only benefit Iran, which Washington wants to be tough on.
European diplomats and officials also took issue with Pence’s insistence that EU governments stay away from Chinese telecoms companies as they build the latest generation of mobile networks, preferring first to have an internal discussion about the potential risks and US claims of Chinese espionage.
“US pressure has a tendency to make us do the opposite. US pressure is counterproductive. It’s best that they don’t try and pressure us,” a senior French diplomat said.
Whatever the threats, officials seemed to be mainly talking past each other.
Kumi Naidoo, global head of Amnesty International, said security was often defined too narrowly, failing to address the wider dangers of climate change.
“The narrative here at the Munich Security Conference is broken. They are talking about the right topics but in the wrong language. The mentality here is that security is only a national issue,” Naidoo told Reuters.