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Pakistan opposes ‘pre-conditions’ for Kabul-Taliban talks

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  • January 13, 2016

    The Quadrilateral Coordination Committee or Group comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States held its first round of meeting in Islamabad on 11th January. The four-nation committee has been formed to help revive and coordinate talks between representatives of the Afghan Government and the Pakistan-based Taliban leadership. Pakistani delegation was led by its Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry. The United States was represented by its Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard G. Olson and the Chinese Government by its Special Envoy for Afghanistan Deng Xijun.

    The process of reviving the Quadrilateral picked up after Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani briefly met on the sidelines of the Paris Climate Change Conference on 30th November. President Ghani’s visit to Islamabad last month to inaugurate the Fifth Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference, jointly with Nawaz Sharif, proved to be a major ice breaker. Both the leaders also participated in the China-Pakistan-Afghanistan and Pakistan-Afghanistan-US trilateral meetings and finally a quadrilateral meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the US Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif later visited Kabul on December 27 and met President Ghani to take the process forward.

    The agenda for the first meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group was clearly set by the host Pakistan Government. Sartaj Aziz, Foreign Affairs Advsior to Nawaz Sharif, spelt out the agenda of the meeting but also suggested the way forward. According to Mr. Aziz, the first and foremost task before the Quadrilateral is to define the overall direction of the reconciliation process along with the goals and targets it would like to set with a view to creating a conducive environment for holding direct talks between Afghan government and Taliban groups. He was of the view that specific tasks should be assigned to the member countries of the Quadrilateral based on the “principle of shared responsibility”. He expressed the hope that the meeting will help to evolve an efficient procedural framework for the functioning of the Quadrilateral.

    Mr. Aziz argued that pre-conditions should not be attached to the reconciliation process as it will prove counterproductive. Instead, it needs to create conditions to bring the Taliban groups to the negotiation table and offer them incentives that can persuade them to move away from using violence as tool for pursuing political goals. Mr. Aziz pointed out that threat of the use of military action against irreconcilables cannot precede the offer of talks to all the groups and their response to such offers. He added that dealing with the irreconcilables can follow once the avenues for bringing them to the talks have been exhausted. He cautioned the Quadrilateral against setting unrealistic targets and deadlines.

    Though the next round of meeting is expected to take place in Kabul in the near future, nothing has been stated regarding the Taliban participation. A spokesman for the Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah had stated in the run up to the Quadrilateral meeting that Pakistan would be providing a list of Taliban willing to talk with the government, but the joint statement issued at the end of the meeting did not mention anything regarding it. Taliban meanwhile continue to refuse to enter into any dialogue with the National Unity Government.

    Though Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was reportedly injured when fighting broke out among the Taliban commanders near Quetta in early December, he appears to have succeeded in reaching out to the breakaway faction led by Mullah Muhammad Rasool. Both groups have reportedly agreed for a ceasefire. Meanwhile, the security situation continues to deteriorate across much of Afghanistan particularly in southern Helmand Province where most of the districts have either fallen or are on the verge of falling to the Taliban.

    It remains to be seen if the Quadrilateral initiative would succeed in finally restraining the Afghan Taliban from launching their annual summer offensive this year. Pakistan’s emphasis on conducting talks without pre-conditions could make the reconciliation process unsustainable for Kabul. Until then, talks for the sake of talks can go on.

    This article was originally published in AIR World Service.