Breakthrough at ‘Heart of Asia’: Kabul agrees to restart dialogue with ‘reconcilable’ Taliban

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ISLAMABAD: The Afghan government on Wednesday agreed to restart dialogue with ‘reconcilable’ Taliban with the help of Pakistan, the United States and China.

The development came after a series of bilateral and trilateral meetings involving the four countries on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia ministerial meeting, where other regional countries also pledged support for the dialogue.

This was disclosed by Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani. “At the trilateral and bilateral meetings we had this afternoon, the main discussion item has been the peace process in Afghanistan. Our allies agreed to work with us in this regard… to bring the reconcilable elements to the table,” he said while talking to reporters on Wednesday.

The declaration issued at the conclusion of the Heart of Asia meeting, meanwhile, urged all Afghan Taliban groups and other armed opposition groups to enter into peace talks with the Afghan government and agreed to put in place specific measures to deny terrorists access to financial and material resources, dismantle their sanctuaries and curtail their ability to recruit and train new terrorists.

The meeting, jointly hosted by Pakistan and Afghanistan, focused on “enhanced cooperation for countering security threats and promoting connectivity in the Heart of Asia region”.

Separately, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, talking to journalists at the US Embassy, said: “The governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and US held a series of meetings today to reaffirm our collective commitment to enabling an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation and cessation of violence.”

Mr Blinken did not give any timeframe for the resumption of the process, but noted that all stakeholders were determined to move forward and “get the right people around the table”.

He said that during the meetings there had been discussions on the roadmap and steps that would be required to take the process forward. Those steps were discussed in detail during a meeting between Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and President Ashraf Ghani later in the evening.

It should be recalled that the initial agreement between the US and Pakistan on expediting the resumption of Afghan peace talks was forged during Gen Sharif’s visit to the US last month.

A senior Pakistani official told Dawn that the process was being resumed from where it broke off following disclosure about Mullah Omar’s death ahead of second round of dialogue in July. He said that Taliban groups that had opened talks with the Afghan government at that time were likely to come back to the table.

Regarding the meeting between Mr Ghani and Gen Sharif, the official said, the two discussed “meaningful steps” that could bring enduring peace and ensure that the gains made in this regard are irreversible.

The reference to making gains irreversible was about Pakistan’s concerns that elements in the Afghan establishment, who are opposed to the process, could again sabotage the resumed contacts.

But Mr Blinken, in his remarks, rejected Pakistan’s concerns and said that Afghanistan was committed to re-engaging in the process, provided the Taliban were ready.

“Afghanistan, Pakistan and US commit to pursuing peace talks immediately. All efforts for dialogue between the Afghan government and Taliban groups will be explored and encouraged. All will pursue with urgency confidence-building measures that reduce the level of violence in Afghanistan and allow for full participation in talks by all participants,” a joint statement issued at the end of the trilateral meeting said.

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