Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said as many Taliban groups as possible must be persuaded to join any upcoming peace discussions with the Afghan government, as a third round of four-country talks aimed at reviving negotiations with the insurgent group concluded on Saturday.
Senior officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States met in Islamabad and agreed to continue efforts for arranging direct talks, expected to take place by February’s end, a joint statement said.
The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG)’s meeting also decided that next meeting will be held in Kabul on February 23, the statement added.
Aziz said a joint effort would help persuade the Taliban to join the process and lead to a “significant” reduction in violence.
“We believe our collective efforts at this stage, including through supportive CBMs (Confidence Building Measures), have to be aimed at persuading the maximum number of Taliban groups to join the peace talks,” he said during his opening statement at the third-round of talks on Saturday.
“In our view, a clear, well-defined and actionable roadmap for the peace process between the Afghan Government and Taliban groups is important.”
Aziz presided over the third meeting of the QCG established in December last year as part of a renewed push for reviving the peace process in Afghanistan.
“The people of Afghanistan have been suffering from an unending cycle of violence for decades. They need lasting peace and stability,” Aziz said.
“A clear and well defined road-map for peace talks between the government of Afghanistan and Taliban is of crucial importance. It should identify and stipulate various stages of the process while measuring the progress made at each stage,” he added.
Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry and senior officials of China and the US are in attendance of the meeting.
The roadmap was introduced in the first quadrilateral meeting in Islamabad, early last month.
“The road-map must also serve to convey positive signals about the unflinching commitment of parties to the peace process,” the adviser said while addressing the meeting.
“It is really encouraging that the Group has made steady progress in its first two meetings, demonstrating clarity as well as seriousness of purpose.
“In the Kabul meeting on January 18, the QCG’s call on the Taliban groups to enter into early talks with the Afghan Government without preconditions is a reiteration of a strong message by the international community for peace talks in order to find a basis for enduring political settlement in Afghanistan,” Aziz stated.
Commenting on Pakistan’s stance on eliminating terrorism, Aziz said, “Pakistan shares Afghanistan’s concern that increasing violence is a key challenge and its reduction should be an important objective for the peace talks.”
“We require collective effort from all QCG countries at this stage, to persuade maximum number of Taliban groups to join the talks. This will not only be beneficial in terms of lasting peace and stability, but will also shrink space for the irreconcilable,” he added.
Aziz further said that timely joint decisions and actions on key issues along with effective coordination among QCG countries is essential for the peace talks to be successful.
“I am hopeful that continuing this spirit and resolve, the group will now focus on identifying a way forward for holding direct peace talks between the government of Afghanistan and Taliban as early as possible.”
The adviser reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to its “continued efforts to facilitate lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
The countries are discussing issues including where to hold talks with Taliban factions who decide to come to the table and what to do about those who chose to stay away.
Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry hosted the third round while other delegations were led by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard G. Olson and China’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Ambassador Deng Xijun.