ISLAMABAD - Senior political figures from Afghanistan, including several presidential candidates, will attend a rare, unofficial meeting in neighboring Pakistan Saturday where they will hold discussions on how to promote “peace and reconciliation” efforts in their war-ravaged country.
The conference will be held in the tourist resort of Bhurban, about 70 kilometers from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Around 30 Afghans, mostly opposition leaders, have been invited, organizers said. They say that the meeting is being held in support of ongoing U.S.-led efforts to bring an end to the 17-year-old war with the Taliban.
No representatives of the Taliban insurgency will attend the conference. It comes ahead of the June 27 official visit to Pakistan by President Ashraf Ghani, who is also seeking re-election in the September presidential vote in Afghanistan.
Ghani’s election rivals, Gulbadin Hekmatyar, Haneef Atmar and Abdul Latif Pedram are among the expected participants. Atmar's spokesperson said, however, that Atmar has sent two representatives in his place because of prior commitments.
Mohammad Karim Khalili, the head of government-appointed High Peace Council, two former governors, Atta Mohammad Noor and Mohammad Ismail, and the second deputy to the Afghan chief executive, Mohammad Mohaqiq, will also take part in Saturday’s meeting.
“This is a high policy peace conference designed to give peace a chance. We stand for peace in Afghanistan and the time has come to hear solutions for peace, not war,” said Maria Sultan of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI), which is an organizer of Saturday’s conference.
She emphasized the conference is in line with Pakistan’s official policy that it does not support a single faction in the conflict-torn country and “all Afghan stakeholders must be the final decision makers and each are equally important.”
Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of sheltering leaders of the Taliban and supporting them in orchestrating insurgent attacks, charges Islamabad rejects.
Pakistani envoy to the United Nations, Maleeha Lodhi, told a Security Council meeting on Afghanistan earlier this week that Islamabad will continue to play “whatever role it can to help promote a political settlement that can end the suffering of the Afghan people.
The United States has held six rounds of direct peace negotiations with the Taliban and both sides are preparing to meet again later this month in Qatar to further the discussions.
But the Afghan government is not part of the dialogue because the insurgent group is opposed to holding any talks with it until American and NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
Russia also has hosted two intra-Afghan meetings in recent months where opposition politicians directly interacted with Taliban envoys but those discussions also excluded the Ghani government.