Delegates from four countries meet over peace in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD • Delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States held talks yesterday to resurrect a stalled Afghan peace process and end nearly 15 years of bloodshed, even as fighting with Taleban insurgents intensifies.

"The primary objective of the reconciliation process is to create conditions to bring the Taleban groups to the negotiation table and offer them incentives that can persuade them to move away from using violence," said Mr Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan's top foreign affairs official, as he opened the talks.

"It is therefore important that preconditions are not attached to the start of the negotiation process. This, we argue, will be counterproductive.

"The threat of use of military action against irreconcilables cannot precede the offer of talks to all the groups."

Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry were joined by Mr Richard Olson, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and General Anthony Rock, the top US defence representative in Pakistan, as well as China's special envoy on Afghanistan affairs, Mr Deng Xijun.

Some analysts hope the added presence of China and the United States may help overcome mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad, though it remains unclear when the Taleban themselves will return to the negotiating table. They are not part of this week's talks.

BID TO CURB VIOLENCE

The primary objective of the reconciliation process is to create conditions to bring the Taleban groups to the negotiation table and offer them incentives that can persuade them to move away from using violence. ''

MR SARTAJ AZIZ, Pakistan's top foreign affairs official.

The so-called "roadmap" talks are meant to lay the groundwork for direct dialogue between the Afghan government and the Islamist group, whose bloody insurgency shows no signs of abating more than 14 years after they were ousted from power by a US-led coalition.

Mr Aziz cautioned against "unrealistic targets and deadlines" and hinted it was unlikely major breakthroughs would be announced soon.

"Keeping in view the sensitive nature of the group's work, it should be our endeavour to keep the work of this group out of the media glare as much as possible," he said.

A first round of dialogue with the Taleban themselves was held in July, but collapsed after the militants belatedly confirmed their leader Mullah Omar was dead.

The news sparked in-fighting between senior Taleban leaders and the group's new chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, which in turn led to the creation of a new faction headed by Mohamed Rasool in November.

Mansour himself was shot and wounded near the Pakistani city of Quetta last month, apparently by one of his own men, according to sources with the group.

A senior Taleban source from Mansour's faction said Pakistan had been in touch with Taleban leaders, but the group was waiting to see whether rivals from Rasool's faction were also likely to attend future talks.

"As far as I know, the Taleban leadership is willing to attend any such meeting in future, but we will also see which other Afghan group or a Taleban splinter group will be invited for these proposed peace talks," he said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'Delegates from four countries meet over peace in Afghanistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe