Afghan politicians, from second left to right, Mohammad Karim Khalili, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Haneef Atmar and Ustad Atta Mohammad Noor, and others attend the opening session of an Afghan Peace Conference, Bhurban, Pakistan, June 22, 2019.
Afghan politicians, from second left to right, Mohammad Karim Khalili, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Haneef Atmar and Ustad Atta Mohammad Noor, and others attend the opening session of an Afghan Peace Conference, Bhurban, Pakistan, June 22, 2019.

BHURBAN, PAKISTAN - Senior government and opposition leaders in Afghanistan have warned that armed hostilities in the country will continue if ongoing negotiations between the United States and the Taliban fail to jump-start a sustainable intra-Afghan peace dialogue.

The warning comes as U.S. and Taliban negotiators are scheduled to begin the next round in their months-long talks on June 29 amid high hopes the two adversaries would finalize a draft text that would pave the way for ending the 17-year-old Afghan war.

“The negotiations are useful but they are not enough because they have not produced any positive outcome so far,” said presidential candidate Gulbuddin Hekmatyar while addressing a conference of about 60 top Afghan dignitaries hosted by Pakistan on Saturday.

Hekmatyar noted that there was a lack of consensus in Afghanistan on the withdrawal of U.S.-led NATO forces from the country, and gave the foreign military presence as the primary reason for the war. He said Afghans would have to jointly determine an appropriate timeline for all international troops to leave the country through an internal dialogue process involving state, opposition and Taliban negotiators.

“(The) Taliban also will have to categorically announce they believe in elections and reaching to power through the elections, and they will give an undertaking not try to use other means to seize power,” Hekmatyar noted.

Troop withdrawal

The Taliban maintains its negotiations with U.S. interlocutors are focused on the troop withdrawal in return for assurances insurgent-controlled Afghan areas would not be allowed to become safe haven for transnational terrorists.

The U.S. is also pressing the Taliban to commit to engaging in an intra-Afghan peace process and to cease hostilities. But insurgents want Washington to announce a withdrawal timetable before they discuss these issues.

FILE - Mohammad Haneef Atmar, former national security adviser and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, speaks during an interview in Kabul, Afghanistan Feb. 23, 2019.

Former Afghan national security adviser, Haneef Atmar, who is another key presidential hopeful, emphasized the need for a conditions-based withdrawal of foreign forces and lamented that despite widespread expectations, U.S.-Taliban talks have not resulted in intra-Afghan peace negotiations.

“We must have a parallel process to the America-Taliban process, and that is a process between the Taliban and the Afghans to talk about the future of the country, about cease-fire, a comprehensive peace agreement (release of prisoners), sanctions (on insurgent leaders). These are all of the issues that will have to be tackled by the Afghans themselves,” Atmar told the peace conference.

Afghan politicians and other participants pose with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, second right, after the opening session of an Afghan Peace Conference in Bhurban, Pakistan, June 22, 2019.

Conference in Pakistan

The conference in the Pakistani tourist resort of Bhurban, about 70 kilometers from Islamabad, was also addressed by other prominent Afghan leaders. They included Karim Khalili, who heads the government-appointed Afghan High Peace Council tasked to discuss political reconciliation with armed opposition groups. All of them underscored the need for urgently bringing an end to years of bloodshed in Afghanistan.

Taliban representatives were not present at the conference because the insurgent group is strongly opposed to any dialogue that involves Afghan government officials.

The event took place ahead of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s official visit to Pakistan on June 27 for bilateral discussions. Afghan officials, however, were apparently not happy with the Islamabad hosting the conference.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in his inaugural speech to the daylong meeting said his country is playing whatever role it can to help Afghans achieve peace in their country.

“The renewed push for peace has created a new opportunity and every effort must be made to seize it. We cannot afford to miss this rare opportunity,” Qureshi said.

The foreign minister underscored the need for the two countries to take “practical steps” to ease mutual tensions and build mutual trust to work jointly for regional economic and political stability.

“For far too long, the vicious circle of mistrust, often fed into by our common enemies, has affected our relationship. The blame-game has not helped either of us. It is indispensable to move away from this negative paradigm,” Qureshi noted.

Afghan leaders have long blamed Islamabad for sheltering Taliban leaders and fighters, charges Pakistani officials reject as baseless and blame Afghan refugee populations in the country for serving as shelter places for insurgents.

An estimated nearly 3 million Afghans, including undocumented families, still reside in Pakistan.

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