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Wednesday Feb 24, 2016

Afghan govt, Taliban to hold talks in Islamabad next month

Afghan govt, Taliban to hold talks in Islamabad next month

KABUL: The Afghan government and Taliban representatives are expected to meet in Islamabad by the first week of March for their first direct talks since a previous round of the peace process broke down last year, officials said on Tuesday.

Following a meeting in Kabul, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), made up of officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China, “expressed strong support for the upcoming direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and authorised representatives of the Taliban and other groups”.

In a joint statement released by the Afghan foreign ministry, they said the first round of direct peace talks was expected to take place by the first week of March in Islamabad.

Officials in Kabul have expressed hopes that at least some parts of the Taliban movement and other insurgent groups affiliated with it can be persuaded to join the talks.“I think there’s a lot of Taliban that want to come,” the outgoing commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan General John Campbell said earlier this month. “That’s what’s going to be hard, to get all the right people to the table.

Tuesday’s four-way talks in Kabul came against a backdrop of continuing violence and increasing military pressure from the Taliban, which has stepped up its insurgency since the withdrawal of most international troops from combat in 2014. Over the weekend, Afghan officials confirmed that troops had pulled out of two key districts in Helmand, leaving the entire northern half of the volatile province in the hands of the insurgents. Insurgents have also kept up their suicide bombing campaign, with 14 people killed in an attack on a clinic in Parwan province north of Kabul on Monday. —Reuters

Mariana Baabar adds from Islamabad: Pakistan has agreed to host the first round of talks between different groups of the Afghan Taliban and representatives of the Afghan government hoping that the militants would agree to sit across the table in the first week of March.

No fixed date was announced on Tuesday at the conclusion of fourth meeting of the QCG on the Afghan peace and reconciliation process in Kabul. The next meeting will take place in Islamabad immediately after the first direct peace talks.

In a sign of improved bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the QCG went a step ahead to announce that both countries would constitute a bilateral joint working group to work with the Ulema of Afghanistan and Pakistan for their support to the Afghan led and Afghan owned peace and reconciliation process, including through Fatwas (edicts) against the ongoing senseless violence.

The spokesman at the Foreign Office in a statement said, “The QCG member states invited all Taliban and other groups to participate through their authorised representatives in the first round of direct peace talks with the Afghan government expected to take place by the first week of March 2016. Pakistan has graciously offered to host this round of talks in Islamabad.”

However, there was no reaction at the time of filing this report whether the Afghan Taliban would agree to the talks or not at a time when Pakistan had insisted that talks with the militants should be ‘unconditional’.

The announcement from the Foreign Office comes a day after Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif spent a day in Qatar.The ISPR had said that the visit saw the army chief discussing in detail with the Qatari leadership, ‘facilitation of reconciliation process in Afghanistan through the Qatar office of the Taliban’.

It appears that though General Raheel Sharif pushed for talks between the Taliban and Kabul, the fact that there was no fixed date announced indicated that the Taliban have yet to be fully convinced.

The Tuesday’s talks in Kabul were attended by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing and US Charge d’Affaires David Lindwall.

That President Ashraf Ghani was determined to hold talks with the Taliban was included in the Kabul statement which underlined that Ghani supported reconciliation with the Taliban groups and the Hezb-e-Islami’s Hekmatyar.—Originally published in The News

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