ISLAMABAD - Pakistan warned Thursday that an escalation in hostilities could derail U.S.-led peace efforts in Afghanistan, although it apparently refrained from condemning Taliban insurgents for unleashing their annual spring offensive in the neighboring country.
The Taliban announced the new offensive last Friday amid expectations their ongoing direct peace talks with U.S. interlocutors would discourage the insurgent group from going ahead with this year's spring operations, which mark an intensification in the Afghan war, now in its 18th year.
U.S. chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad swiftly condemned the insurgent move, saying it would not advance Afghan peace efforts. He also called on Pakistan, Qatar and other nations to do the same. The two countries, along with Russia, China and Iran, are known for maintaining ties with the Taliban.
American and Taliban officials have indicated their months-long peace dialogue remains on track, despite the intensification of hostilities in Afghanistan that came with the start of the insurgent group's spring offensive.
U.S.-backed Afghan security forces and insurgents have both claimed they have inflicted heavy casualties on each other since Friday when the Taliban announced its annual spring offensive, which marks an increase in fighting, now in its 18th year.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal, when asked Thursday to respond to Khalilzad’s remarks, noted that chances of peace in Afghanistan “have become brighter” in the wake of direct U.S.-Taliban talks. But he avoided denouncing the insurgent offensive.
“Pakistan believes that all sides must give peace a chance and continue the dialogue, which is the only way to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan. There is a danger that any increase in hostility has the capacity to derail the peace process,” Faisal told a weekly news conference in Islamabad.
The spokesman noted that Pakistan has arranged the ongoing U.S.-Taliban talks by bringing the insurgent group to the negotiating table. "This has been acknowledged by the U.S.,” he added.
Islamabad has long maintained that continued use of military force against the Taliban or attempts to treat the insurgent group as a "non-Afghan entity” would not help find a political settlement to years of bloodshed in Afghanistan.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while testifying before a Congressional committee last week, defended the Trump administration’s dialogue with the Taliban.
The Taliban announced Friday its annual spring offensive in Afghanistan amid a U.S.-led push for a negotiated settlement to the 18-year-old war with the Islamist insurgency.
The offensive dubbed “Al-Fath,” which means “victory” in Arabic, commenced throughout the country early Friday morning with an objective to establish an “Islamic system” in an Afghanistan “cleansed from American occupation,” said a Taliban statement.
Observers, however, say the announcement is largely symbolic because insurgents in recent years have not eased battlefield activities during winter and have staged major
“With respect to why we are talking to the Taliban, they control a significant amount of resources. And to get the reconciliation we need, to take down the violence level, the Taliban are going to have a say,” Pompeo said.
U.S. and Afghan officials have until recently blamed Pakistan alone for covertly sheltering Taliban leaders and helping them in sustaining cross-border insurgent activities in Afghanistan — charges Islamabad denies. In recent years, however, Moscow, Beijing, Doha and neighboring Iran have increased their contacts with the Taliban. Afghan officials have also regularly accused Tehran in recent years of arming the insurgent group.
Russia hosted an international conference last November where it also invited Taliban delegates and representatives of the Afghan government. Moscow claimed the event as a major success for its diplomacy because it was the first time insurgent officials appeared in a public gathering since a U.S.-led foreign military coalition ousted the Taliban from power in 2001.