A key conference to be hosted by Pakistan seeking a political consensus on the Afghan endgame was postponed on Friday after the Afghan government refused to send its delegation.
“The Afghan Peace Conference scheduled to be held in Islamabad from 17-19 July 2021 has been postponed until after Eidul Azha,” said a brief statement issued by the Foreign Office.
The new dates of the conference will be announced later, the statement added.
The Afghan Peace Conference was set to be held in Islamabad. A number of Afghan leaders including former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Salahuddin Rabbani, a former foreign minister, Omar Zakhilwal, a former finance minister, Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, a senior leader of ethnic Hazara minority community, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former warlord-turned politician, and Ahmad Wali Masoud were invited to the two-day conference.
A senior Pakistani official while speaking on condition of anonymity had already told The Express Tribune that the Afghan government was reluctant to send its delegation, although many prominent Afghan leaders had confirmed their participation.
The meeting was postponed after Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Ashraf Ghani met in Uzbekistan on the sidelines of the regional connectivity summit. Director General Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt General Faiz Hameed was also present in the meeting.
Sources said president Ghani requested for the postponement and sought more time for the preparation.
The Pakistani official, however, expressed disappointment over the postponement, saying time was running out and hence urgent steps were needed to seek a political settlement.
“Who knows by the time this conference takes place, Afghan Taliban may take control of more districts and areas and it will only weaken the position of the Afghan government,” said the official.
The Express Tribune has learnt that many proposals were on the table in the conference including a follow-up conference to be attended by Afghan Taliban representatives.
Pakistani authorities are worried that given the fast-paced developments taking place in Afghanistan, the conference may lose its efficacy if it is delayed beyond a certain time.
Officials in Islamabad are also baffled by the rapid gains made by the Afghan Taliban in the face of Afghan security forces offering little resistance.
“How can you allow the Taliban to take control of the Spin Boldak border crossing? It is unbelievable that Afghan security forces have offered no resistance,” the official wondered, saying Spin Boldak is the most important area of Afghanistan after Kabul.
“Over 30 per cent revenue of Afghanistan comes from the Spin Boldak-Chaman border crossing,” the official said, highlighting its significance.
Nevertheless, officials said Pakistan is committed to the peace efforts as any unrest in the neighbouring country would have huge implications for Pakistan.
Prime Minister Imran during a speech at the regional connectivity summit in Uzbekistan said it was extremely unfair to blame Pakistan for the mess in Afghanistan.
He reiterated his stance that Pakistan’s influence over the Afghan Taliban diminished after the US announced a troop’s withdrawal date. He said Pakistan used all available means short of military action to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.
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