ISLAMABAD – The first round of direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban groups under the Quadrilateral Contact Group (QCG) is expected next week. Well-placed sources told The Nation on Friday that QCG is actively engaged in giving final touches to the date and venue of the meeting. “The four-nation contact group has to choose one of the two proposed dates under its consideration including March 7th and March 11th for the direct meeting”, a senior diplomat privy to these efforts said.
Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria on Thursday said that the efforts for holding the meeting were continuing, but noted that he did not have “any confirmation of the dates of the talks”.
The QCG at its fourth meeting in Kabul on February 23rd announced that first direct meeting between the Afghan government and Taliban groups will be held in the first week of March.
Pakistan had voluntarily offered the fellow members of four nations contact group to host the first round of direct talks.
Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif visited Qatar last month to solicit support of the Qatari leadership about the utility of Taliban political office in Qatar. Raheel Sharif visited Kabul earlier this week and reaffirmed Pakistan’s total support to President Ashraf Ghani and the US military leadership over efforts for making the ongoing reconciliation process a meaningful and result-oriented.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz in his address to the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States this week admitted that Pakistan had influence over Taliban, which it could use to bring them to the negotiating table.
Analysts and experts see the remarks of Sartaj Aziz in the context of Islamabad’s commitment to the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan an effort to send a clear message to the Taliban groups to join the talks.
In December last year, a Quadrilateral Group comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States was set up to help revive the stalled dialogue process suspended in July after the death news of Taliban chief Mullah Muhammad Omar. His deputy Mullah Muhammad Akhtar Mansoor took over the Taliban leadership which led to phenomenal surge in violence in Afghanistan since then as according to the experts he wanted to show his strength and to prevent any discard among the ranks and file of Taliban commanders.
Media reports from Kabul suggest that Afghan authorities have sought from Pakistan the presence of 10 Taliban leaders whom they want to be engaged in the peace talks.
On the other hand, Taliban sources claimed that they would engage in the peace process only after their political office in Qatar was recognised as a legitimate interlocutor for their future engagement.
Analysts and experts said it would be premature to make any comment about the future course of talks stating a lot more will depend on what decisions are taken during the first direct meeting between the Afghan government and Taliban. “It all depends how the maiden direct contact between the two key stakeholders evolve”, said Najam Rafique Director Research at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.