ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has called on warring sides in Afghanistan to resume talks, promising it will follow “the priorities the elected Afghan government determines” for pursuing peace and reconciliation with the Taliban.
The prime minister’s chief advisor on foreign policy, Sartaj Aziz, made the remarks Friday in a meeting in Islamabad with members of an unofficial dialogue between Pakistani and Afghan lawmakers, former officials, peace negotiators and civil society activists.
Aziz said that Pakistan believes Taliban insurgents and other groups waging war should realize that Afghanistan has changed over the years, where the dominant majority would not like to go back to the past.
The Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in partnership with Afghanistan’s Women Peace and Security Organization arranged the unofficial interactions in a bid to foster better understanding and cooperation between the two uneasy neighbors.
Pakistan is doing whatever it can to persuade all Taliban factions to become part of the peace process and indications are that many of them are now interested in joining the process, the statement issued by the organizers of the meeting quoted Aziz as saying.
“Pakistan’s message to all the combatants is loud and clear; nobody can capture Afghanistan on its own, and the key to peace lies in talks,” Aziz added.
He also welcomed the peace deal Kabul recently concluded earlier this month with the insurgent group headed by notorious Afghan warlord, Gulbudin Hekmatyar, saying it appears to be encouraging other anti-government forces to come to the table. Aziz did not elaborate.
The Pakistani advisor earlier this year admitted in a public talk in Washington that Taliban leaders and fighters return to Pakistani medical facilities for treatment and have been sheltering on this side of the border. The presence of the insurgents is at the center of bilateral tensions and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly urged Islamabad to prevent the Taliban from using Pakistani soil.
Influence in peace process
A member of the Afghan delegation, former trade minister Muzamil Shinwari, while speaking to VOA reiterated allegations that Taliban leaders sheltering in Pakistan are being barred by their hosts from opening peace talks with Kabul. Afghan authorities have traditionally asserted that the Pakistani intelligence agency does not want the insurgents to speak to the Afghan government directly because it fears losing influence in the process.
"We have managed to reach to the peace agreement with Hizb-e-Islami, the Hekmatyar and that is a major achievement. There was no involvement of Pakistan there was no other country in it. We started direct negotiations. We want to have even direct negotiations with the Taliban. But the problem is, those Taliban, they start direct negotiations with the government of Afghanistan or even if they start thinking of that they suddenly disappeared, arrested or get killed," Shinwari asserted.
The Taliban has so far shown no willingness to engage in talks with the Afghan government and has strongly rejected reports its representatives secretly met with the Afghan intelligence chief in Qatar.