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Afghan President agreed to revive dialogue with the militant group

06 September, 2015

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ISLAMABAD: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, despite his scepticism about Pakistan’s role and the Taliban’s sincerity in reconciliation, has agreed to consider Islamabad’s proposal for reviving the stalled peace dialogue with the militant group.

“Mr Ghani will discuss our proposal with his allies,” a senior Pakistani official told reporters about the discussions the Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security, Sartaj Aziz, had with the Afghan president on Friday.

Among the five messages that Mr Aziz conveyed to the Afghan leadership during his day-long trip to Kabul, the core ones were about resuming the reconciliation process and bringing to an end the Afghan government’s rhetoric against Pakistan.

“We offered to help them in resuming the dialogue,” the official said about the talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban, which were suspended on the eve of the July 31 second round of talks following the disclosure about Mullah Omar’s death.

Pakistan had facilitated the process and hosted the first meeting in Murree on July 7.

A Pakistani official had earlier claimed that at the meeting which had to be called off the two sides were expected to reach an understanding on the need to end hostilities. Violence in Afghanistan escalated after the suspension of the talks. Some analysts link the intensification of violence to the succession struggle that followed the confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death. But more importantly, the increase in violence served to derail the reconciliation that the two countries had been pursuing for months.

The official said the Afghan president promised to respond to Mr Aziz’s proposals after consulting his advisers.

In meetings that followed his 90-minute, one-to-one session with Mr Aziz, Mr Ghani signalled that the Pakistani offer would be “considered positively”.

“The quest for peace will continue,” he said at a meeting of senior officials in Kabul, adding that there were no divisions within his coalition government on the issue. “Dr Abdullah and I have been united in this quest for peace.”

Speaking at a meeting on Saturday morning, the president linked the success of the Afghan reconciliation process to the sincerity of Taliban towards the quest for peace.

“Provided that we have a willing partner, peace discussions will advance and a serious dialogue to end the killings will be under way,” he said.

Though the Afghan leadership still views the Taliban with deep suspicion, the imperative for resuming the reconciliation process comes from the realisation that the economic reform agenda cannot progress without peace and that countering insurgency is proving to be too expensive.

“And with the splits in the Taliban movement, the risk of further violence is high.... violent insurgency, and the advance of extremism across the region are increasing the likelihood that the economic reform agenda will be undone by political unrest.... the cost of fighting the Taliban and other insurgencies are eating up even more budget (funds) than they did previously,” Mr Ghani said.

The Afghan president’s assertion that Pakistani leaders, notwithstanding their desire for peace, were failing to control “those forces that believe that an unstable and weakened Afghanistan is better than a strong and confident neighbour” had raised questions about the outcome of Mr Aziz’s visit to Kabul.

President Ghani did not name the elements in Pakistan who he said wanted to keep Afghanistan weak, but in the past Afghan leaders had been accusing the military and the intelligence agencies of supporting the Taliban.

In a statement days before Mr Aziz’s visit, the Afghan presidency had said: “There is credible evidence that the leadership, command and control centre, support infrastructure and sanctuaries of the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups are inside the Pakistani territory.”

Urging the Afghans to stop the tirade against Pakistan was a primary objective of Mr Aziz’s visit. Therefore, when hours after meeting Mr Aziz, President Ghani spoke of “elements in Pakistan that wanted to keep his country weak” it was clear that concerns remained.

SARTAJ AZIZ: Talking to Dawn, Mr Aziz said that he had raised the issue of security of staff of the Pakistani embassy in Kabul with the Afghan president. Mr Ghani, the adviser said, assured him that all steps would be taken for the embassy staff’s security.

Since the re-emergence of tensions in ties between the two countries diplomats at the embassy have frequently been facing incidents of harassment. This has forced many of them to move into the embassy.

According to Mr Aziz, President Ghani confirmed that his finance minister would visit Islamabad in the first week of November for a meeting of the joint economic commission.

He added that no breakthrough was made at his meetings in Kabul but the modest progress made there should be acknowledged.

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