By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) - A meeting of four-nation group devoted to achieving reconciliation in war-torn Afghanistan wrapped up in Islamabad on Wednesday without any breakthroughs, merely pledging to use its "respective leverages and influences" to lure the Taliban back to talks with Kabul.
The fifth meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) -- which consists of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the U.S. and China -- was chaired by Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry.
Other delegations were led by the Afghan president’s special envoy (and Afghan ambassador to Pakistan) Omar Zakhilwal; U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard G. Olson; and Chinese Special Envoy for Afghan Affairs Deng Xijun, according to an Afghan Foreign Ministry statement.
Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hikmat Karzai, who led his country’s delegation at the four previous QCG meetings, however, was conspicuously absent, raising questions about Kabul’s commitment to reentering talks with the militant group.
Analysts had already cast doubts on the meeting’s prospects for success amid mounting diplomatic tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which accuse one another of promoting terrorism.
In a rare outburst last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed Pakistan for recent terrorist attacks in his country, demanding that Islamabad fight the Taliban rather than merely negotiate with it.
Analysts also point out that a simmering diplomatic row between Washington and Islamabad -- triggered by a U.S. refusal to provide F-16 jets to Pakistan at subsidized prices -- had further diminished the already slim chances of a breakthrough at the QCG meeting.
"The QCG merely reiterated that violence serves no purpose and that peace negotiations remain the only option for a political settlement," read a joint statement by the group issued after the meeting.
"In this respect, QCG countries reaffirmed [their intention] to use their respective leverages and influences [to resume the stalled Afghan peace process]," it added.
The group also strongly condemned an April 19 terrorist attack in Kabul, in which scores of people were killed and injured.
The four nations, however, stressed their continued commitment to advancing the goals of an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process.
The next QCG meeting, they added "will be convened as mutually agreed".
Pakistan brokered a landmark first round of direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban last July in Islamabad.
But the process broke down after the Taliban announced the death of longtime group leader Mullah Omar -- a development that sparked a bitter power struggle within the group.
The breakdown of talks was followed by a series of brazen Taliban offensives across Afghanistan, including the temporary capture of the strategically important city of Kunduz and several districts of Helmand province.
Last month, the fractious militia announced the launch of its annual spring offensive, leaving Afghan security forces -- already facing by casualties and desertions -- scrambling to beat back a revitalized insurgency.
Analysts accuse both the Afghan government and the Taliban of intentionally discrediting the QCG’s peace efforts.
"The Taliban had already discredited the four-nation group by boycotting its meetings -- and now Kabul has done the same," Tahir Khan, an Islamabad-based expert on Afghan affairs, told Anadolu Agency, referring to the weak Afghan representation at Wednesday’s meeting.
"The U.S. and Chinese envoys travelled for hours to attend the meeting, but the Afghan deputy foreign minister -- who had led his country’s delegation at the previous four meetings -- did not show up, merely sending his ambassador," Khan said.
The analyst went on to assert that President Ghani’s assertions last month should be taken as an obvious indication that Kabul was in "no mood" to negotiate with the Taliban.