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Pakistan sees Afghan peace talks in `coming days`

By Our Staff Reporter 2015-03-20
ISLAMABAD: Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz on Thursday hinted at a split within the Taliban on peace talks with the Afghan government, but still looked cautiously optimistic about the dialogue beginning shortly.

`Some (Taliban) groups want to fight while others are ready for talks. We (the government of Pakistan) are playing the role of a facilitator and are persuading the groups, which were in contact with us.

Some talks will take place in coming days, but outcome cannot be predicted, Mr Aziz said while opening the East-West Institute`s Conference `Afghanistan Reconnected`.

Islamabad had following improvement in ties with Kabul started nudging the Taliban to start negotiations on a political settlement with the Afghan government.

Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif during his visit to Kabul in February communicated the Taliban`s willingness to talk to the Afghan government.

China has also been backing the fresh attempt at reconciliation.

But, the process has since appeared to have slowed down because of conflicting indications from both the Afghan government and the Taliban. There have also beenreports thatbothsidesarennalising their negotiating teams for the process.

Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hikmat Khalil Karzai, while speaking at the gathering of a think tank recently, said that the negotiators were being named. Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani had meanwhile told the Afghan Parliament that there had been no talks with the Taliban (so far) andthe government was in the process of arranging the dialogue.

The Taliban, however, say that they have not made up their mind because the government in Kabul is powerless and foreign troops are still in Afghanistan.

The US government`s plans to slow downtheexitofitstroopsfromAfghanistan may complicate the situation. A formal announcement on changes in withdrawal plan is expected after the upcoming meeting of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with President Barack Obama.

Mr Aziz said the onus was now on the Afghan government to offer the Taliban a suitable package.

Speaking about Pakistan`s policy on Afghanistan, Mr Aziz said: `Our policy is that of no-interference and no favourites.

We want other countries to do the same.

Once reconciliation takes place, we can all compete for development and trade.

Afghanistan, he said, needed a lot of help and economic assistance. But the Afghans, he added, should be allowed to deal with political issues by themselves.

The adviser said improved bilateral ties with Afghanistan had helped in counterterrorism operations. `We have started coordinated operations against militants.

We now need coordinated action on crime and smuggling,` he emphasised.

Afghan interior minister is expected to visit Islamabad for discussions on combating crime and smuggling.

Mr Aziz said that transit trade agreement with Afghanistan would be fully implemented. Facilities at the border crossing points at Torkham and Chaman were being improved, he said and added that more transit points were being opened.

A proposal for extending LahorePeshawar Motorway to Kabul was also under consideration, he said.