Afghan leaders hold peace talks in Pakistan
Latest initiative comes days before Afghan president visits Pakistan
Dozens of Afghan political leaders attended a conference hosted by neighbouring Pakistan on Saturday as part of multinational efforts to end a 17-year insurgency by the Taliban.
The conference, which was to be followed by meetings and working sessions on Sunday and Monday, comes in the lead-up to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's visit to Pakistan next week.
Representatives of Mr Ghani's government as well as of the opposition were present at the meeting near Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, although the Taliban were not represented at the talks.
The event was backed by the Pakistani government and organised by two think tanks, the Lahore Centre for Peace Research and the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi opened the conference by saying his country would continue its efforts toward peace and stability in Afghanistan.
"Pakistan’s perspective on Afghanistan is clear, we support an Afghanistan that is at peace with itself, and at peace with its neighbours," Mr Qureshi said.
The Taliban refuse to hold talks with the government, which they describe as a puppet of the West, although they have held a series of meeting with the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, since last last year, and have also attended talks with non-government leaders hosted by Russia in Moscow. The Chinese foreign ministry revealed this week that a Taliban delegation headed by veteran leader Abdul Ghani Baradar had visited China recently to discuss the peace process.
Washington has been holding talks with the Taliban and Afghan officials to find a negotiated exit to its 17-year engagement in Afghanistan. In recent days, Mr Khalilzad has been in the Afghan capital Kabul holding dozens of meetings with President Ghani, his political opponents and a broad swath of civil society. It was not clear when he planned to meet again with the militants.
Among the figures in attendance at Saturday's meeting were the head of the Afghan government-sponsored high peace council, Mohammad Karim Khalili, as well as the leader of the Jamiat-e-Islami political party, Ustad Atta Mohammad Noor, and Mr Ghani's national security adviser Haneef Atmar, who plans to run in the presidential election scheduled for September.
Also present was former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who struck a peace deal with Mr Ghani's government and was taken off a US terrorist list. The peace agreement was touted as a blueprint for an agreement with the Taliban, who dismiss Mr Hekmatyar as a spent force with no military might.
Still, at the start of Saturday's meeting, Mr Hekmatyar urged his fellow Afghans to press for the Taliban's demand for a quick and full withdrawal of US and Nato troops from Afghanistan, who remain in the country to help Afghan forces to develop their capabilities. Despite this, the Taliban control or wield significant influence in nearly half of the country.
A watchdog group that monitors US aid to the country painted a troubling picture of the Afghan security development scheme, with supervision from US and Nato departments that do not co-ordinate with one another.
The US has spent more than $84 billion (Dh308.5bn) on Afghan forces over the last 17 years but those forces continue to suffer staggering losses and bleed personnel, according to the report from Washington's Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction released late on Thursday.
Published: June 22, 2019 07:30 PM