Talks to ‘finalise’ Afghan reconciliation roadmap begin

Islamabad, Feb 6 (IANS) Senior Afghan, Pakistani, Chinese and US officials opened key discussions here on Saturday in an effort to “finalise” a reconciliation roadmap in Afghanistan.

The roadmap, introduced in the first quadrilateral meeting held in Islamabad in early January, aims to determine “parameters of shared responsibilities” of all those involved in the process, Xinhua quoted an official, who is part of the discussions, as saying.

Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s foreign affairs adviser, said the meeting will approve the roadmap that could help to facilitate the beginning of direct negotiation between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Pakistan fully shares Afghanistan’s concern that increase in violence in Afghanistan is a key challenge, Aziz said.

Reduction of violence should be an important objective of the consultations, Aziz added.

The second meeting, held in Kabul on January 18, had completed deliberations on almost half of the plan and the focus of the Islamabad meeting would be to complete the discussions and come up with a good and realistic document, he said.

Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai is leading a seven-member delegation in the meeting. Diplomatic sources said Zeerak Yousafi, a High Peace Council member is also part of the delegation.

Chinese Special Envoy for Afghanistan Deng Xijun, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard G. Olsan and Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry are leading their delegations.

The quadrilateral process was launched in December during a meeting on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia Conference held in Islamabad.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were present in that meeting, which was also attended by senior officials from China and the US.

A consensus has emerged during the previous meetings that there should be no pre-conditions attached to the possible peace talks. However, the participants want some confidence building measures to encourage the Taliban to come to the negotiation table.

The Taliban have refused so far to hold talks with the Afghan government in the presence of foreign forces in the country.

The Taliban political negotiators listed some steps ahead of the talks at an unofficial meeting in Qatar last month that include opening of their political office in Doha, removal of travel curbs on their leaders and release of prisoners.

The Taliban office in Qatar was closed days after its opening in 2013 after then Afghan President Hamid Karzai raised objections at the use of the white flag and the plaque of “Islamic Emirate.” The Taliban had used both the signs during their rule (1996-2001).

The Taliban also want to talk first to the Americans to discuss withdrawal of the foreign forces.

The Taliban have not officially commented on the quadrilateral process.

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