Pakistan, US agree on early resumption of Afghan peace process

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the United States have agreed to work together for an early resumption of the stalled Afghan reconiliation process.The understanding was reached during the recently concluded visit of Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif to the United States where he held extensive discussions with key figures of the Obama administration, including Vice President Joe Biden.“There is a sort of agreement that there is a need to move on the Afghan reconciliation thing very quickly depending on the conditions,” a senior diplomatic source, who had been briefed on the trip, told media in a background briefing on Saturday.Afghanistan was the focus of Gen Sharif’s visit, during which he also discussed Pakistan’s strained ties with India, military cooperation, strategic (nuclear) issues and other regional matters.“The general quite candidly conveyed his views on the issue, both the political and the strategic perspective, to his interlocutors,” the source said.Gen Sharif is believed to have communicated Pakistan’s fears in accepting the facilitation role that it is expected to play for reviving the process. The Pakistani side is primarily concerned about the Afghan security establishment thwarting a renewed process.Military spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa, too, had in one of his tweets on the army chief’s visit said that “requirement of conducive environment for re-initiating Afghan peace process” was emphasised.At least three major initiatives – the first attempt in February to kick-start the reconciliation process, the ISI-NDS (the Afghan intelligence agency) cooperation agreement in May, and the reconciliation process itself –, Pakistanis believe, failed because of conspiracies hatched by elements in Afghanistan, who are opposed to a political settlement with the Taliban.

The two sides (Pakistan and US), however, have not set any timeframe for getting back on track the talks process, which was disrupted after the Afghan intelligence leaked the news about the death of Mullah Omar days before Islamabad was set to host the second round of reconciliation dialogue.Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan also got strained because of the suspension of the peace dialogue and the accompanying increase in violence. Resultantly the relationship, which had undergone a major transformation earlier in the year, once again slipped back into compulsive mistrust of each other.“It would have been imprudent to set the timeframe without getting the Afghan government and China on board,” the source explained. China, it should be recalled, has been lately playing a proactive role in Afghanistan and participated in the first round of talks on July 7 as an observer along with the US.However, the source said it was expected that a “lot of ground would be covered during the Heart of Asia Conference”, which Pakistan is co-hosting with Afghanistan on Dec 7-8. It is speculated that President Ashraf Ghani would visit Islamabad on this occasion.Chinese Special Envoy on Afghanistan Ambassador Deng Xijun, who visited Pakistan last week, too had offered to facilitate the Afghan dialogue, provided other stakeholders agreed to the proposal.A concerted diplomatic push for resumption of reconciliation process is clearly afoot.


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