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Pakistan seeks political solution to Afghan conflict – The Nation

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ISLAMABAD  –   Pakistan and the United States yesterday agreed to move forward together to achieve peace in Afghanistan.

The two-way delegation level consultative meeting between Pakistan and the US on Afghanistan was held at the Foreign Office here. The US delegation was led by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad while Additional Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs Aftab Khokhar headed the Pakistani side.

The US delegation comprised representatives of Defence and State Departments while senior officials from ministries of defence and foreign affairs participated for Pakistan.

During the meeting, issues of mutual interest including bilateral ties, regional peace situation, and Afghan peace process came under discussion, said a foreign ministry statement.

Additional Secretary Aftab Khokhar said that Pakistan will continue playing its mediatory role in establishment of peace in the region, including Afghan peace process, as part of the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“Pakistan has advised all the sides to move towards political resolution of the issue in order to end the decades’ long conflict in the region,” the statement said.

Other officials said that the two countries agreed that there was no option but to cooperate to resolve the Afghanistan issue.  “The two sides agreed to work together. Pakistan assured all support for the Afghan peace,” one official told The Nation.

Another official said the US urged Pakistan to improve the understanding with Afghanistan to make the peace process a reality.

Ambassador Khalilzad appreciated Pakistan’s pivotal role for establishment of enduring peace in the region. He said the US needed Pakistan’s help for peace in Afghanistan.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal said that in the talks with Khalilzad’s team its delegation reiterated Pakistan’s commitment for Afghan peace. “It encouraged all sides to agree to seize the moment to end the prolonged conflict through a political settlement,” Faisal added.

Earlier, Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad to attend a bilateral Pak-US consultative meeting, during his two-week peace mission to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Belgium, Germany, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to end the long-running Afghan war.

Regarding the meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit in Makkah, Khalilzad tweeted: “It will improve relations between the two countries.”

He said the meeting will also help to implement and capitalise opportunities for regional connectivity, integration and development. Khalilzad said the United States stands ready to assist Afghan peace process.

Over the weekend, Taliban said the insurgents will not call a ceasefire any time soon, even as a US envoy was heading to the region for a fresh round of peace talks.

In a rare and defiant message ahead of what would be the seventh round of recent negotiations, Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhundzada said foreign forces in Afghanistan were ‘condemned to defeat’ – but   added the insurgents would continue talks with the US. The Taliban’s fight “and resistance against the occupation is nearing the stage of success, Allah willing.”

Last week, former president Hamid Karzai mistakenly declared the Taliban had announced a new ceasefire after hearing an old message the insurgents had put out last year.

Karzai’s announcement unleashed a brief spell of confusion across the country, with media outlets firing off tweets and breaking news reports announcing the alleged truce.

The insurgents, believing they have major leverage on the military front, have rejected widespread calls for a ceasefire. “No one should expect us to pour cold water on the heated battlefronts of jihad (holy war) or forget our 40-year sacrifices before reaching our objectives.” said Akhundzada, who has led the Taliban since his predecessor Akhtar Mansour was killed in a 2016 US drone strike.

Last year, the Taliban observed a three-day ceasefire over Eid and many Afghans – exhausted by decades of war and violence – had pinned their hopes on another truce this year.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had proposed a nationwide ceasefire at the start of Ramazan early last month, but the Taliban rejected the offer.

In Washington, the State Department said Zalmay Khalilzad – the Afghan-born US diplomat tasked with trying to bring America’s longest war to an end – on Friday left for a 17-day trip to Qatar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Germany, Belgium and the UAE.

Khalilzad said he believed the peace process was progressing, even though the last round of talks ended with the two sides at apparent loggerheads over when the US might pull its troops from Afghanistan.

“We’ve made substantial progress over the last month. On this trip, I want to take that momentum and accelerate the Afghan peace process,” he maintained.

Khalilzad added that he was optimistic about talks, and called for parties to show “flexibility.” He will speak with the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha, where the two sides have repeatedly met.

Despite some progress, with both sides believed to have agreed on various aspects of a proposed deal, violence between the Taliban and US-backed Afghan government forces has continued unabated.

A major sticking point remains the refusal of the Taliban to negotiate with Ghani’s government, which enjoys international support.

Despite some progress, with both sides believed to have agreed on various aspects of a proposed deal, violence between the Taliban and US-backed Afghan government forces has continued unabated.

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