In a significant development that may lead to an elusive peace deal in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban have agreed to cease fire if Pakistan and China guarantee that a ‘united national government’ will be formed in the war-ravaged country.
The Taliban representatives made this offer during crucial talks with senior Afghan government officials in the popular tourist resort of Murree Tuesday night. Officials from Pakistan, China and the United States also attended the closed door talks, suggesting the latest process has the backing of major international players.
Read: Taliban, Afghan government talk 'peace' in Islamabad
A senior government official familiar with the meeting told The Express Tribune that both sides exchanged a list of demands in an effort to take the process forward.
The official, who requested not to be named as he was not authorised to talk to the media, said the Afghan side demanded immediate ceasefire by the Taliban. “The Afghan side told the Taliban representatives that negotiations and attacks cannot move together,” the official revealed.
In response to that, the Taliban representatives said they would stop attacks if Islamabad and Beijing guaranteed that a ‘united national government’ would be formed in Afghanistan.
The Express Tribune has also learnt that the Afghan side agreed to include the third-tier leadership of the Afghan Taliban in the central government. However, the Taliban demanded the inclusion of its first-tier leadership.
The official said both sides would now go back and consult their respective leaderships before initiating another round of talks later this month. The next round is expected to be led by the Afghan foreign minister. However, it is not clear whether the next round would take place in Islamabad or somewhere else.
The official said army chief General Raheel Sharif was instrumental in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. During his visit to Kabul earlier this year, Gen Raheel had assured the Afghan leadership that Pakistan would convince the Taliban for a peace deal.
A statement issued by the Foreign Office on Wednesday confirmed that Pakistan hosted and facilitated the talks between the representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban.
“As part of the commitment to facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process, a meeting was hosted by Pakistan between the Afghan government and Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan representatives,” the statement said. The representatives of China and the US also participated in the meeting.
Foreign Office spokesperson Qazi Khalilluah said the participants were duly mandated by their respective leaderships and expressed their collective desire to bring peace to Afghanistan and the region.
Read: With the promise to meet again, Taliban, Afghan officials conclude first round of peace talks
The participants exchanged views on ways and means to bring peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. It was agreed that for lasting peace in the region, each side would approach the process in sincerity and with full commitment.
The participants recognised the need to develop confidence-building measures to narrow down trust deficit among all stakeholders. The participants agreed to continue talks to create an environment conducive to peace and reconciliation. The next meeting will be held at a mutually convenient date after Ramazan.
China says it is ready to play a constructive role
China’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, said their country was ready to play a constructive role in achieving peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. “China is ready to work with relevant parties and play a constructive role in achieving broad and inclusive peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” said an official statement.
It termed the meeting between Afghan government and Taliban representatives as ‘positive’ and said the meeting was conducive to promoting peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
According to the statement, China appreciated the collective willingness for convening this meeting to advance the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. “China encourages and supports the government of Afghanistan to have peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan, and always maintains close contact with the concerned parties,” it added.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2015.