aizaz chaudhry

Afghan army must block Taliban gains to spur talks: Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said that Afghanistan must limit military gains by the Taliban and offer incentives to the insurgents to revive a faltering peace effort.

The latest round of scheduled talks yielded little progress as the militants did not even appear at talks on Wednesday in Islamabad, which also involved China and the United States as the overseer parties. Afghan Taliban control or claim more territory now than at any time since they was ousted by a U.S.-led intervention in 2001 and it is becoming increasingly important that the Afghan government takes steps to ensure that Taliban come to the talks table.

Instead, Afghanistan blamed Pakistan for falling short of ensuring that Taliban leadership comes to the table and declined to send a full delegation to Islamabad. Aizaz said that efforts to persuade the Taliban to talk directly to the Kabul government could only bear fruit if the Afghan army stopped the Taliban from gaining the upper hand. He said that the Taliban need to realize they would have more to gain on the table than they can do on the battlefield. “We believe that there should be effective action by Afghan national security forces to ensure that there are no military gains by the Taliban,” he told Reuters in an interview late on Thursday.

Afghan security forces have struggled to contain the Taliban since NATO-led forces pulled out of combat operations in 2014. Warfare has been fierce and more than 6,600 Afghan soldiers and police were killed last year, according to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. However, despite the brief capture by the militants of the northern city of Kunduz last year, they have not been able to capture and hold on to any provincial capital.

He said that officials at the Islamabad talks had told him that Taliban gains in an offensive this year were not as big as the insurgents had hoped. The first formal talks with the Taliban since their 2001 ouster collapsed in 2015 after it was announced that their founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had been dead for two years, throwing the militant group into disarray. The movement has since split on the issue of participation in talks.

Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of harbouring militants seeking to topple the Afghan government, including the notorious Haqqani network, blamed for high-profile attacks in Kabul. Pakistan denies that but nevertheless, the US has also urged the Pakistani leadership to do more against militants on its soil.

The U.S. Senate passed a defense policy bill on Thursday increasing restrictions on military aid for Pakistan over frustrations that it has failed to crack down the Haqqani network. He also said that the bulk of the Afghan Taliban leadership was in Afghanistan and Pakistan was using all “leverage and influence” at its disposal to get them to the table. “We are doing whatever we can to persuade the Taliban and the Haqqani leadership, whoever we can contact. We believe the Afghan government should also make … a similar kind of effort,” he added.

The Pakistani foreign secretary also urged Kabul to create “incentives” and confidence-building measures to persuade the Taliban that it was serious about giving peace a chance. But following a bomb attack in Kabul last month that killed 64 people, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared that while the door to peace was not fully closed, military operations would have priority. He also said that he no longer expected Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the table but it must act against militants sheltering in its territory who rejected peace.

Aizaz said that the talks were not dead, “We need to remain optimistic. The signal we get is that the Taliban have not said ‘yes’ to the talks but have also not said ‘no’.”

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