–US special envoy Khalilzad calls on COAS Gen Bajwa, appreciates role in Afghan peace process
–Gen Bajwa assures Khalilzad of Pakistan’s continued efforts for regional peace as Taliban focus on ‘US occupation’ during talks
RAWALPINDI: US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad called on Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Wednesday and discussed with him the peace talks arranged between the US and Afghan Taliban by Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, which the Taliban claimed had mainly concentrated on the “US occupation”.
A press statement released by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated that the two officials discussed the Afghan peace process and regional stability.
The US envoy appreciated Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process, said the ISPR, adding that Gen Bajwa reiterated that “peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan” and assured that continuous efforts will be carried out “for bringing peace and stability in the region”.
H.E Mr Zalmay Khalilzad called on COAS. Regional security and Afg peace process discussed. Visiting dignitary appreciated Pak’s efforts for Afg peace process. COAS reiterated that peace in Afg is imp for Pak and assured cont efforts for bringing peace and stability in the region. pic.twitter.com/GlMWpfm1cJ
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) December 19, 2018
On Monday, representatives from the Afghan Taliban met officials from the United States in Abu Dhabi, in another bid to find shared ground to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. The meeting also included representatives from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE.
According to media reports, the Taliban agreed to consider a US request for a six-month ceasefire if Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE guarantee that Washington will establish an interim government in Afghanistan and appoint a Taliban-favoured leader as its head.
Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan were the only three countries to recognise the Taliban government during its five-year rule from 1996-2001.
Quoting Taliban officials, Reuters reported that on the second day of talks in Abu Dhabi arranged by Pakistan, the US delegation asked Taliban to announce a six months’ ceasefire in Afghanistan. However, the insurgent group has sought guarantee from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan regarding establishment of an interim government in Kabul of their choice.
The Taliban also said they held talks with UAE, Saudi Arabia and Pakistani representatives on the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and its security and reconstruction.
‘TALKS FOCUSED ON US OCCUPATION’:
However, in a statement issued late on Tuesday, the Taliban said the talks had mainly concentrated on the “US occupation”, adding: “Nothing about interim government, ceasefire, election or other internal issues has been discussed”.
“Talks revolved around [the] withdrawal of occupation forces from Afghanistan, ending the oppression being carried out by the United States and her allies,” the movement’s main spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a separate statement.
An Afghan government delegation travelled to the city and met Khalilzad as well as officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Pakistan.
However, despite US insistence that any peace settlement must be agreed between Afghans, the Taliban have refused to talk directly with officials from the Kabul government, which they consider an illegitimate, foreign-appointed regime.
The Taliban, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 overthrow, say the presence of international forces in Afghanistan is the main obstacle to peace. Even as the peace process gathers momentum, fighting has continued with heavy casualties on both sides.
The latest round of diplomacy comes about a year after the US sent thousands of extra troops to Afghanistan and stepped up air strikes to record levels, with the aim of pushing the Taliban into accepting negotiations.
The Taliban delegation was led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, head of the movement’s political office in Qatar, and included the chief of staff of Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.
The presence in the delegation of senior officials close to the Taliban leader underscored the importance of the talks, which are shaping up as the most serious attempt to open negotiations since at least 2015.
“It’s a well-coordinated meeting where members from the political commissions and Shura [council] are both participating for the first time,” said one peace activist in close contact with the Taliban side at the meeting.
An Afghan government team travelled to Abu Dhabi “to begin proximity dialogue with the Taliban delegation and to prepare for a face-to-face meeting between the two sides”, government spokesperson Haroon Chakansuri said in a statement.
But there was no sign from the Taliban they were ready to accept talks with the government, and the Kabul delegation was based in an Abu Dhabi hotel away from the location of the talks.
The US says the aim of the talks is to facilitate an Afghan-led process and the inclusion of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Pakistan in the talks reflects a US desire to bring in countries with an interest in Afghanistan.
Previous meetings were held in Qatar, where the Taliban maintains a political office, but a push to include Saudi Arabia, which is hostile to the gas-rich Gulf state, prompted a change of venue to Abu Dhabi.