In what appears to be a major policy shift, Pakistan is said to have delivered a ‘stern warning’ to the Afghan Taliban to immediately call off their ongoing spring offensive in Afghanistan or else face consequences.
The message was recently conveyed to the Taliban leadership through ‘intermediaries’, said a senior government official, who has the knowledge of this crucial move by Islamabad. “The Afghan authorities have also been in the loop,” said the official, who wished not to be named given the sensitivity of the matter.
The unprecedented step was taken after the Taliban launched a spring offensive against the Afghan security forces as well as international troops despite attempts by the Afghan negotiators to reach out to the ultraorthodox militia that has been fighting a bloody insurgency since 2001.
Recently, representatives of the Taliban and Afghan government officials met in Doha, Qatar, to explore the possibility of peace talks, but the unabated Taliban attacks have threatened the embryonic process. Pakistan is believed to have been pushing for a ceasefire by all sides in Afghanistan in order to pave the way for a meaningful reconciliation process.
The official disclosed that Pakistan has made it clear to the senior Taliban cadres that they would have to face ‘serious consequences’ if the ongoing spring offensive was not called off. He added that Pakistan and Afghanistan could jointly deal with the Afghan Taliban if the ultraorthodox group refused to respond to the peace overtures.
It is understood that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who led a powerful delegation including army chief General Raheel Sharif and ISI chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, to Kabul on May 12, informed the Afghan leadership about the ‘warning’ conveyed to the insurgents in Afghanistan.
At a news briefing in Kabul, the prime minister strongly condemned the uptick in Taliban violence and the group’s spring offensive. “Continuation of such offensive and attacks will be construed as terrorist acts and we condemn such attacks in the strongest terms,” Nawaz declared in a rare public condemnation of insurgents’ activities.
Islamabad is also concerned about the sanctuaries of Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan’s border regions, especially in southern and northeastern provinces. The Pakistan Taliban uses these areas as a springboard for launching cross-border attacks in Pakistan.
On Sunday morning, militants fired rockets at a check post of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in the Ghakhi Pass area of Bajaur Agency, killing one soldier. An FC source said that the rockets were fired from the north-eastern Afghan province of Kunar. “The militants fired rockets at the FC post early in the morning.”
The paramilitary troops manning the post responded with full force, forcing them to flee. The attack left an FC soldier dead. His body was shifted to the Bajaur Scouts headquarters in Khar.
Regional meeting on Afghanistan
Pakistan will host the Heart of Asia-Istanbul’s Senior Officials Meeting in Islamabad today (Monday). The meeting will be co-chaired by Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai.
Representatives from other 12 participating countries, 16 supporting countries and 12 regional and international organisations have been invited to the meeting, said a foreign office statement.
The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was launched in 2011 to bring together regional countries to promote peace and prosperity in Afghanistan through concerted efforts of participating and supporting countries as well as international and regional organisations engaged in the process.
“Pakistan is the co-chair for 2015 with Afghanistan (permanent co-chair). It will host the fifth Ministerial Conference in Islamabad later this year,” the statement said. It further said as the co-chair, Pakistan will take initiatives to take the process forward from the Beijing Conference held in October 2014.
The deliberations in these senior officials meetings would form the basis for the Islamabad Declaration, to be endorsed by Heart of Asia countries and organisations during the ministerial conference.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2015.
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