Army Chief meets Ashraf Ghani, US military leaders in Kabul


On his way back from Tajikistan, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif had a brief stopover in Kabul where he held meetings with Afghan and US officials, DG ISPR Lt Gen Asim Bajwa said.

General Raheel Sharif called on President Ashraf Ghani at his Palace and separately held meetings with US military leaders including CJS Gen Dunford, CENTCOM Gen Austin and RSM Commander Gen Nicholson.

They discussed regional security, border management and coordination in Shawal operation to keep an eye on terrorists trying to flee across border into Afghanistan.

The meetings reviewed and expressed their optimism for positive outcome of the reconciliation process being pursued through the ongoing Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) framework.

On the occasion, the Army chief reiterated wholehearted support to Afghan leadership for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

The Afghan leadership also acknowledged Pak Army’s efforts and achievements in the war against terrorism and its role for bringing regional peace and stability.

Afghan government and Taliban representatives are expected to meet in Islamabad in the first week of March for their first direct talks since a previous round of the peace process broke down last year.

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”.

Pakistan has agreed to host the talks, said a joint statement by Afghanistan and its three partners in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group after meeting in Kabul last month.

The four states “invite 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”, the statement said.

“Pakistan has graciously offered to host this round of talks in Islamabad,” it added.

Delegates from Afghanistan, China, the US and Pakistan met in the capital for a fourth round of talks aimed at forming a path back to the nascent peace process, which was interrupted by last summer’s announcement that Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died.

Taliban representatives have been notably absent from the process so far.

The historic first round of direct talks with the Taliban took place in Murree last July, but came to a standstill after the insurgents confirmed Omar’s death, which had been kept secret for two years.

The announcement and appointment of his successor Mullah Akhtar Mansour accentuated divisions among the militants, with many holding Mansour responsible for lying to them about Omar’s death.

In 2015 a splinter group formed under Mullah Rasool and challenged Mansour’s leadership. But the disunity has not dented the Taliban’s fighting ability.

The fresh peace initiative comes as the insurgents wage an unprecedented winter campaign of violence across Afghanistan, underscoring a worsening security situation more than 14 years after they were driven out of power by the US-led NATO forces.

The first round of attempts to bring the militants back to the negotiating table began in Islamabad in January, followed by two more meetings in Afghanistan and Pakistan.