ISLAMABAD - Pakistan said it hosted a meeting Tuesday night between the Afghan government and representatives of the Taliban as part of Islamabad’s commitment “to facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process," a foreign ministry statement said Wednesday.
The meeting was held in Murree, near Islamabad, and representatives of China and the United States also participated.
“The participants were duly mandated by their respective leadership and expressed their collective desire to bring peace to Afghanistan and the region,” the Pakistani statement said.
It added that participants exchanged views on ways and means to bring peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
“It was agreed that for lasting peace in the region, each side would approach the process in sincerity and with full commitment,” the statement said.
The participants, it said, recognized the need to develop “confidence building” measures to “engender” trust among all stakeholders.
“The participants agreed to continue talks to create an environment conducive for the peace and reconciliation process,” the statement said, adding that the next meeting will be held at a mutually convenient date after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The White House welcomed the talks.
Spokesman Josh Earnest, during his Tuesday briefing, called it “an important step in advancing prospects for a credible peace.”
“The United States commends the government of Afghanistan’s prioritization of peace and reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, and we both acknowledge and appreciate Pakistan’s important efforts to host these conversations," Earnest added.
“This ice-breaking meeting marks the start of the formal reconciliation process,” Pakistani officials told VOA on condition of anonymity.
Not to expect breakthroughs
They warned, however, that the process is going to be long and complicated, and overnight breakthroughs should not be expected.
All parties that want peace in Afghanistan should support this process, but people should not “jump to conclusions,” they added.
Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai is heading the government delegation, which includes a close aide of Ghani – Haji Din Mohammad – as well as an aide of Chief Executive Abdullah – Mohammad Natiqi.
Taliban delegates are led by Mullah Abbas Durrani from Qatar. Foreign Secretary Chaudhry is leading the Pakistani delegation.
Pakistani officials said they worked extremely hard to make sure that “all factions of [the] Taliban were fully represented” during the meeting. They delivered a strong message to the Taliban of possible consequences if the group failed to engage.
Blessing of leaders
The officials also said the Taliban representatives in the meeting had the blessing of the leaders of their respective factions.
However, they acknowledged that some detractors might attempt to undermine the process.
Ghani has taken the lead in improving relations with Pakistan on the condition that Pakistan deliver the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.
As a result, he has faced strong criticism from some inside Afghanistan, including former President Hamid Karzai, who accused Pakistan of fueling the insurgency inside Afghanistan.
“Ghani’s success is imperative for Pakistan,” Pakistani officials said. “If the process does not succeed, Pakistan will be the biggest loser.”
The discussions between the Afghan and Taliban delegations follow a two-day secret conference in late May in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi that also was facilitated by Pakistan.
Taliban spokesmen had distanced the group from the talks in Urumqi, saying that only their leaders based in Qatar were authorized to hold such negotiations.
Three previous meetings, in Qatar, Oslo and Dubai, were termed personal interactions by the Taliban.
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