Representatives of United States, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan adopted a road map Saturday in Islamabad to facilitate direct peace talks between the Afghan government and Afghan Taliban.
A joint press release, issued after a meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, announced that the four countries were trying to set a date for the talks, which were expected before the end of the month, and called on “all Taliban groups” to join the talks.
The statement indicated that the roadmap has stipulated “the stages and steps in the process.”
The group of four countries stressed that the process should lead to a political settlement and an end to violence in Afghanistan.
Afghan Taliban's position
Afghan Taliban sources contacted by VOA called this a “one sided affair” which would “not produce any results.”
“Foreigners are continuing their war and killing innocent Afghans,” they said, adding that the only solution was for the foreign forces to withdraw from the country.
“We have no other option but to continue the war under these circumstances,” the sources added.
Earlier, they had also demanded a release of their prisoners, including those held by the U.S., and removal of their senior leaders from the United Nations sanctions list as preconditions to ending hostilities.
Afghanistan claims the top Taliban leadership operates out of Pakistan and wants Pakistan to take stern action against those who refuse to negotiate. Pakistan has pushed back against that idea.
“Threats of the use of military action against irreconciliables [factions that refuse to enter into peace negotiations] cannot precede the offer of talks to all the groups and their response to such offers," Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister on foreign affairs, had said in his opening statement to the first meeting of the QCG.
Human rights concerns
Meanwhile, Afghan human rights groups, particularly women’s rights activists have expressed concerns that the government may ignore the gains made during the last 15 years in favor of making peace with the Taliban.
Afghan government has tried to ease some of those concerns.
The head of the Afghan delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, in a statement in Germany a few days ago, had promised that Afghanistan would stick to the “values enshrined in Afghanistan’s constitution” particularly regarding women’s rights once the talks with Taliban commenced, and would have a “a woman member in the negotiating team.”
However, that may not be a deal breaker with the Taliban who have already indicated in a statement after an informal conference on Afghanistan in Qatar last month, organized by a Nobel peace prize winning group called Pugwash, that they are flexible on women’s rights.
“The Islamic Emirate is committed to civil activities; to the freedom of speech and to the women’s rights in the light of Islamic rules, national interests and values,” their statement said.
The QCG group, launched in December in Islamabad on the sidelines of a regional conference on Afghanistan, is comprised of senior diplomats from the US, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
For this third meeting of the group, the U.S. delegation was led by the U.S. Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Olson, China’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Deng Xijun, Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Aizaz Chaudhry, and Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister, Hekmat Khalil Karzai.
The next meeting of the group will be on February 23 in Kabul.