Notwithstanding denials by Taliban and the United States of media reports that they intended to resume peace talks, Pakistan military on Thursday appeared hopeful about progress in Afghan reconciliation as it warned of potential spoilers in the process.
“While onus for such negotiations to succeed lies on both parties concerned, Pakistan in all sincerity will support the process, as peace in Afghanistan will contribute to peace in the region. We hope all stakeholders will continue to act with responsibility not to allow detractors of peace to succeed,” a military spokesman said. The rare statement by military’s public affairs wing on the Afghan reconciliation process was issued in response to reports in the international media that Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif, during his visit to Kabul, indicated to the Afghan leadership that Taliban might be willing to open dialogue. A source told Dawn that there could soon be a move towards reconciliation with Taliban opening direct talks with the Ashraf Ghani government in a departure from their longstanding position of not engaging Kabul. Pakistani authorities lately renewed their efforts to nudge Taliban towards dialogue with the Afghan government and seem encouraged by the initial response from the insurgent leadership.
“Pakistan is trying with all its sincerity,” the source said. The effort is apparently at a nascent stage. The ISPR statement subtly confirmed this as it said: “Reconciliation between the Afghan government and Afghan Taliban to bring lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan always comes up during any meeting related to Afghanistan. Pakistan has always supported such process.” There is also regional support for the process. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had during his visit to Islamabad last week offered to “facilitate and play constructive role” in reconciliation. He had also appreciated Pakistan’s role vis-à-vis Afghanistan and said: “Pakistan has an irreplaceable role in resolving the Afghan issue. Pakistan has a strong will for playing a constructive role for its resolution.” Relationship between Islamabad and Kabul, particularly security and intelligence cooperation, has transformed vastly since Ashraf Ghani succeeded Hamid Karzai in the presidency. Kabul cooperated with Pakistani authorities in an unprecedented way after the tragic Peshawar school incident.
But now Afghanistan is looking towards Pakistan for helping it reach a settlement with the Taliban insurgents, besides other security steps for preventing the militants from using Pakistani soil for launching attacks in upcoming fighting season. Pakistan had in the past claimed credit for the opening of Taliban’s Doha office in June 2013 by using its influence with the militant group. But Pakistani officials are worried that leakage of information about behind the scene developments in the process would not serve the cause of peace. They avoided pointing fingers and the blame game as they reminded the “stakeholders” of their “responsibility” of not allowing “the spoilers” to sabotage the process. The fallout of the media reports was evident. The Taliban, who reportedly, were mulling to return to dialogue, denied any change in their policy on peace talks or impending plans for a meeting. “There is no such plan to hold talks with anyone in Qatar office. The Taliban have not changed their policy with regard to talks nor have they given serious consideration to this option because Afghanistan is still under foreign occupation,” a statement by the insurgent group said.
Taliban’s statement reminded that the group’s key demand for resuming dialogue – withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan – remained unresolved. “Thousands of invading troops are practically based in Afghanistan and involved in operations. The Kabul administration has signed a security pact with the United States. It has deeply plunged in corrupt practices and promoting un-Islamic activities in the country and wants to extend stay of foreign invading troops in Afghanistan,” it said. The US State Department also denied immediate plans for talks with Taliban and reiterated commitment to supporting the process whenever it took off. “We are not in direct talks with the Taliban, and there have not been any direct talks between the US and the Taliban since January 2012, when the Taliban broke them off. The US is committed to enabling progress on an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process which can lead to a stable and secure Afghanistan,” spokesperson Jen Psaki said.