ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has assured neighboring Afghanistan that peace talks with the Taliban “will resume in a month” to find a peaceful end to the Afghan conflict.
Taliban-led insurgent violence has spiked in Afghanistan with the onset of spring, prompting fears this year could see record levels of bloodshed across the war-torn country.
This week’s deadly Taliban assault in Kabul that killed around 70 people and wounded hundreds more has observers concerned that Afghan urban centers could be the focus of the insurgency’s fighting in 2016.
The rise in violence has led to increased calls from within Afghanistan for President Asharf Ghani’s government to abandon its policy of seeking peace talks with the Taliban and instead intensify military operations against the insurgent group.
Prospects for peace
But, despite the pressure, visiting Afghan Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi, after a meeting with Pakistani foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz, appeared upbeat about prospects of peace talks with the anti-government forces.
The Afghan minister says that Aziz “assured him the (Afghan) peace process will resume in about a month” and it will encourage nearly three million Afghans living in Pakistan as refugees and economic migrants to return to Afghanistan.
Taliban leaders are believed to be sheltering and allegedly directing insurgent attacks from sanctuaries in Pakistan.
Afghan officials have been urging Islamabad to bring those leaders to the negotiating table. Islamabad admits having “limited” influence over some insurgent groups but says it has no control over Taliban activities inside Afghanistan.
An initial round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban was expected to be hosted by Pakistan in early March but the insurgent group refused to attend in a last-minute announcement.
Minister Balkhi is in Pakistan to discuss problems facing the Afghan refugee population such as harassment at the hands of local police, forced deportations and illegal detentions during counterterrorism crackdowns.
His Pakistani counterpart, Abdul Qadir Baloch, says the visiting Afghan minister has been assured the complaints are being addressed through certain steps. He insisted that mainly Afghans living illegally as economic migrants and not the registered refugees, are facing the problems. Baloch says that to address the issue, Pakistani authorities, with the help of the Afghan government, will start within a month a registration process for an estimated 1.5 million undocumented Afghans.
"So, it will be done soon and hopefully once these Afghan refugees who are unregistered, they are registered and issued with Afghan documents and we also have a record of them and thereafter this complaint of them being harassed, or arrested, or persecuted in an undesirable manner that should come to an end, that will soon will come to an end,” he said.
Minister Baloch says that there are around one-and-a-half-million registered Afghan refugees in the country and he will soon submit a request to the federal cabinet to extend their stay in Pakistan until the end of 2017. The current deadline for the Afghan refugee population to legally stay in the country ends on June 30 of this year.