UPDATES WITH AFGHANISTAN'S RESPONSE
By Islamuddin Sajid
ISLAMABAD (AA) - Pakistan and the Taliban on Thursday agreed on the need for “earliest resumption” of stalled Afghan peace talks with the U.S. in a bid to end the 18-year-long conflict in Afghanistan, according to a Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement.
The agreement came during a meeting between the Taliban leaders and Pakistani officials held at the Foreign Ministry in the capital Islamabad.
A 12-member delegation of the Afghan Taliban political office in Doha, arrived in Islamabad late Wednesday night on the invitation of the Pakistani government, marking the first-ever visit of a Taliban delegation to Islamabad since the insurgents established their political office in Qatar in 2013.
On Thursday morning, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and other senior officials welcomed the Taliban delegation, led by the head of Taliban political office in Doha Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, upon their arrival at the venue.
However, Afghanistan dubbed the “warm welcome” accorded to the Taliban delegation in Pakistani as “violation of the diplomatic norms”.
Sediq Seddiqi, spokesman for the presidency in Kabul, told journalists the meetings in Islamabad will not help the Afghan peace process. He stressed the peace process would only prove fruitful when it’s owned by Afghan people and led by the Kabul government.
“We saw the Taliban members travel to Pakistan. Unfortunately, a protocol was accepted by the Pakistani foreign minister and they have met, but these meetings do not contribute to the peace process,” Seddiqi added.
He blamed the insurgents for the continued violence in the country even during the landmark presidential elections held on Sept. 28.
- 'No military solution'
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry’s statement said: “Pakistan has maintained for several years that there is no military solution to the complex situation in Afghanistan. An inclusive peace and reconciliation process, involving all sections of the Afghan society, was the only, practical way forward,” the statement quoted Qureshi as saying.
During the meeting, it was emphasized that “reduction of violence by all parties to the conflict was necessary to provide an enabling environment for the resumption of the peace process at an early date,” it added.
Qureshi assured the Afghan delegation that his country would continue to support all efforts to achieve permanent peace in the war-torn country, according to the statement.
During the meeting, Taliban leader Mullah Baradar praised Pakistan's role as a facilitator in the Afghan peace talks.
Taliban leaders told Qureshi that the Taliban are ready to resolve the Afghan conflict through negotiation, according to a senior official of Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry.
"Meeting between Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban delegation is likely to be held soon in Islamabad," the official told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.
Zalmay Khalilzad, a top U.S. peace negotiator, along with his team already arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday before the Taliban delegation.
On Sept. 9, U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly canceled a meeting with representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban at the U.S. Camp David retreat.
Trump declared the peace talks with the Taliban "dead" citing a recent attack in Afghanistan's capital Kabul which killed a dozen people, including a U.S. service member.
The raging Afghan conflict is in its 18th year, with thousands of lives lost and millions forced to flee their homes. The UN has repeatedly urged that opportunities for peace in the region be seized.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan last month asked Trump to resume peace talks with the Taliban during their meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York.