ISLAMABAD - Pakistan disclosed Monday that it recently facilitated secret talks in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi between Afghan envoys and Taliban representatives, and another round of negotiations is expected soon as part of efforts to promote peace and reconciliation.
Sartaj Aziz, national security and foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, made the revelation in Islamabad, saying Pakistan is doing all it can to end the 14-year-old Afghan conflict. He did not discuss details or the venue of the upcoming meeting.
Aziz said Pakistan is determined to “salvage” its relationship with neighboring Afghanistan, which has recently improved, and that his government is confident the effort to help revive the Afghan reconciliation process will produce results in next three months. He did not elaborate.
Afghan Defense Minister-designate Masoom Stanekzai reportedly represented Kabul in the two-day meeting with Taliban representatives, which happened late last month. The interaction was aimed at discussing preconditions for a possible peace process, according media reports. Afghan officials have not commented on the reports.
Aziz also defended a recent intelligence-sharing memorandum of understanding Pakistan signed with Afghanistan to enhance counterterrorism coordination between spy agencies of the two countries. He insisted that Kabul initiated the groundbreaking move and Islamabad reciprocated.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is under fire at home for singing the deal and political opponents are urging him to cancel it, accusing him of selling out to Pakistan.
But Aziz says Islamabad is not concerned about the discourse in Kabul, saying it is mainly dominated by "detractors" of the bilateral ties and relations with Ghani's administration at both political and military levels continue to deepen.
Pakistani officials, however, say the recent surge in Taliban violence in Afghanistan represents the “biggest impediment” to peace.
In background interviews, government officials told VOA that Pakistan’s leverage with Taliban insurgents has gradually decreased with the emergence of a new breed of insurgent field commanders. They insist many of these Taliban commanders act independently of the militant organization’s political leadership, making it difficult to get them on the same page for talks with Kabul officials.
On Monday Aziz also said the Taliban is not the only player engaged in Afghan violence, referring to the emergence of pro-Islamic State outfits, along with Uzbek and Tajik fighters, who pose new security challenges throughout the country.