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Pakistan, China, US Seek  Roadmap to Afghan Peace
International

Pakistan, China, US Seek Roadmap to Afghan Peace

A key gathering opened on Monday in Islamabad in which four major countries, namely Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, hope to lay the roadmap to peace for the war-shattered Afghan nation.
The meeting comes as battlefield losses in Afghanistan are mounting and entire swaths of the country that cost hundreds of US-led coalition and Afghan military lives to secure slip back into Taliban hands.
Taliban representatives have not been invited to the talks, vowing to talk only to the US and not to the Afghan government, AP reported.
As the gathering got underway, host Pakistan—seen as key to bringing the warring Taliban factions to the table—cautioned of the difficulties ahead.
Sartaj Aziz, adviser to the Pakistani prime minister on foreign affairs, warned against prematurely deciding which Taliban factions are ready to talk, urging instead “confidence building” measures to get even the recalcitrant Taliban to the negotiating table.
But analysts and participants alike say that while there are four countries talking, much of the hope for progress toward peace rests with Pakistan, which is accused of harboring some of the fiercest factions of the Taliban such as the Haqqani group, a US-declared terrorist organization. Pakistan says its influence over the Taliban is overrated.
Aziz refused to say whether Pakistan has a list of Taliban representatives prepared to enter into peace negotiations. The existence of such a list was announced on Sunday by Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
At the start of Monday’s conference, Aziz urged participants to avoid the media and work toward finding ways to get even the most intransigent Taliban to talk peace. He said the gathering needs “to define the overall direction of the reconciliation process” and define goals “with a view to creating a conducive environment for holding direct talks between the Afghan government and Taliban groups”.

  Pakistan Involvement
Imtiaz Gul, whose Center for Research and Security Studies has delved deeply into the Afghan conflict and Pakistan’s decades-old involvement, says Pakistan has significant leverage with the Taliban, led by Omar’s replacement Mullah Akhtar Mansoor.
“Militants in both countries are allied and getting rid of the Haqqanis could unleash a violent backlash inside Pakistan where the army has been fighting for several years to defeat a coalition of militant groups largely based in its border areas with Afghanistan,” Gul said.
That battle has been brutal with thousands of Pakistani soldiers killed and wounded and thousands more Pakistani civilians killed in deadly retaliatory suicide attacks by the militants.
But Gul said Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, who last month went to Afghanistan, has given hints that the military is ready to move away from past support of militants, even those considered friendly to Pakistan.
Travelling to Afghanistan unaccompanied by the country’s powerful ISI intelligence agency, which has long been considered the force behind the Taliban, was a signal, said Gul, that Sharif was centering future policy decisions only at army headquarters.
Changes won’t come quickly, says Gul, “but important for us is to turn the page (from supporting militants) and I think Gen. Raheel Sharif has turned that page.”
Though the Taliban were not invited to Monday’s talks, a senior Taliban official, who asked not to be identified fearing exposure and capture, told AP that two Taliban delegates, currently headquartered in Qatar, will meet “soon” with China’s representatives.
The meeting, which will also include Pakistan, is to be held in Islamabad, said the official.
Still, there seems little to no chance for early peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

 Taliban
The Taliban, struggling to consolidate their leadership council following their former leader’s death, have drawn their line in the sand: no official talks with the Afghan government on a peaceful end to their protracted and bloody war until direct talks can be held with the United States.
“We want talks with the Americans first because we consider them a direct party,” the Taliban official said in a face-to-face interview with AP.
The Taliban want recognition of their Qatar office under the banner of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name they used when they ruled Afghanistan until they were ousted by the US-led coalition in 2001. They also want the United Nations to remove the Taliban from its wanted list and they want their prisoners released from Afghan jails.
Maulvi Shazada Shaeid, a representative on Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, tasked with seeking peace with the Taliban, said the distance between the two sides is vast, holding out little hope for peace.

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