India-Pakistan skirmish not correlated to Afghan peace talks says ambassador

Abdul Farid Zikria: A deal can be reached if the Taliban speak to the Afghan government

Afghan Ambassador Abdul Farid Zikria. Victor Besa / The National. 
Afghan Ambassador Abdul Farid Zikria. Victor Besa / The National. 

The Afghan ambassador to the UAE called claims by Pakistan and the Taliban that Afghan peace talks will be affected by violence in Kashmir “questionable” and “puzzling".

Abdul Farid Zikria said both Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan and Taliban officials recently questioned whether peace talks would survive the most recent skirmish between Pakistan and India. The two matters, he concluded, were not connected.

“To me, it was puzzling. I don’t know why the conflict between Pakistan and India should affect us," he said on Sunday at the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation conference in Abu Dhabi. "If Pakistan really wants peace in Afghanistan, why does that have to be affected by what’s going on in India, I do not see the parallel.”

According to the ambassador, the Taliban mirrors Pakistan's line because "they’re mostly based in Pakistan, that’s why they have to reflect the same statement that came out of Pakistan state officials”.

In December 2018, during peace talks in Abu Dhabi, the Afghan government expressed hope that a ceasefire agreement would be reached by 2019. Two months on, violence has not diminished.

On Friday at least 23 security forces were killed in an attack by Taliban fighters in Helmand province. The Taliban control or contest more than half of Helmand's districts and regularly deliver heavy blows to Afghan forces, who have been struggling to hold off insurgents across Afghanistan since taking the lead from Nato forces in late 2014.

Afghan forces, however, claim to be taking the fight to the insurgents, with the Ministry of Defence saying more than 100 "terrorists" have been killed in recent days in various operations across the country.

The US has also intensified its air campaign against the Taliban and ISIS, dropping twice as many munitions on insurgent positions in 2018 compared to the previous year.

Last week, the Taliban met with US officials in Qatar's capital Doha, where the group has an embassy. The latest meetings follow marathon talks last month that saw the US and the Taliban walk away with a "draft framework" focused on a potential US troop withdrawal and a pact to prevent Afghanistan from harbouring terrorists.

They are currently on a two-day pause to seek advice from their respective leaderships, negotiations are set to resume on Saturday.

The talks in Doha focused on the withdrawal of Nato forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban's commitment to not using Afghan soil as a warring ground against other countries.

Details of the meeting between the Americans and the Taliban leaders are being relayed to the Afghans by the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. The Afghan government was not represented at the talks.

Mr Khalilzad called the latest meetings in the months-long diplomatic push "productive", saying the two sides "will take the next two days for internal deliberations, with plans to regroup on Saturday".

However, Ambassador Zikria told The National, "no one else can sign on the peace deal in Afghanistan other than the government.

“The important thing is that the Afghan government has to be involved...the sooner the better. [The Taliban] have to come and speak to us."

Updated: March 2, 2019 06:27 PM


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