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India-Pakistan foreign secretary level talks rescheduled

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Islamabad: The foreign secretaries of Indiaand Pakistan are expected to meet next month, a senior official has said.

There was an understanding between the two sides for a meeting in February, but its dates have not been finalised, the official said on Saturday.

The January 15 meeting, which had to decide the timetable and modalities of the resumed peace dialogue, was postponed after a terrorist attack on India’s air base at Pathankot in north Punjab.

The January 2 attack on Pathankot airbase left seven security personnel killed. A total of six terrorists, suspected to be from Pakistan, were also killed.

India blamed Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) for the attack and linked the resumption of the foreign secretaries’ meeting to an action by Pakistan against the group.

Senior officials from both the sides have been in touch for rescheduling the meeting, Dawn online reported.

Pakistan formed a team to investigate the evidence provided by India about JeM’s involvement.

The crackdown that came a day before the foreign secretaries were scheduled to meet was welcomed by New Delhi as “important and positive first step”, but it could not prevent the meeting getting postponed.

A statement on the deferment of the meeting, jointly issued by Islamabad and New Delhi, said: “Pakistan and India have agreed to reschedule Foreign Secretary-level talks in the very near future.”

The official said the foreign secretaries’ meeting next month would prove that the terrorist act had failed to quash the momentum for normalisation of ties generated by leaderships of both the countries.

Meanwhile, the planned visit of a team of Pakistani investigators to Pathankot has not been scheduled as yet.

“The team would first present its findings to the government, which would then decide about the visit,” a source in the interior ministry said.

Although an announcement has been made, the government is yet to approach India with a proposal for the trip, which would also give details of the terms of reference and objectives of the investigation team’s visit.

Indian external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said “We continue to closely follow on the progress in the investigation in Pakistan on the Pathankot terrorist attack… We continue to expect robust action by Pakistan against all the perpetrators.”(IANS)

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U.S. Welcomes Pakistan’s Actions Towards Peace in Afghanistan

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan

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Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Pakistan"s Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen during talks in Beijing, China, VOA

The United States said Saturday it welcomes actions Pakistan is taking to promote a negotiated solution to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

The acknowledgement came a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced his country has arranged another round of Washington’s peace talks with the Afghan Taliban scheduled for Monday.

“The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans,” a U.S. embassy spokesperson in Kabul told VOA.

US negotiator

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has met, and will continue to meet, with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, the spokesperson added.

Neither Khan nor the U.S. spokesperson have disclosed the possible venue for the upcoming meeting with Taliban officials.

Some Afghan sources say Monday’s meeting will take place in Islamabad, but no official confirmation is available.

USA, afghanistan
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

Khalilzad, who is visiting regional countries to gather support for Afghan peace talks, is to lead the U.S. delegation in talks with insurgent representatives. This will not be the first time Khalilzad has met with the Taliban.

Since taking office in September, the special U.S. envoy has held two publicly known rounds of preliminary discussions with insurgent negotiators in Qatar, where the Taliban runs its so-called political office. The talks have been for the sake of talks, according to insurgent and other sources aware of the meetings.

Trump’s letter to Khan

U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month wrote a formal letter to Khan asking for his help to bring the Taliban to the table for negotiations. A day later, Khalilzad visited Islamabad where he met with Khan and his military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, to follow-up on Trump’s request, Pakistani officials say.

Speaking in northwestern city of Peshawar on Friday, Khan said the U.S. has changed its tune by requesting help instead of saying Islamabad is not doing enough, as U.S. officials have previously insisted.

“By the grace of Allah, the dialogue is now happening inshallah [God willing] on the 17th [Khan did not mention the month] and Pakistan has facilitated the talks between America and the Taliban,” Khan said. He did not share further details.

taliban, afghanistan
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, right, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

Khan recounted Friday that critics used to mock him as “Taliban Khan” for saying the Afghan war could not be ended without political negotiations but now all key stakeholders are jointly working to pursue a political settlement to end the violence in Afghanistan.

“If peace were achieved, God willing, Peshawar will change and become a hub of commerce and tourism, as things around the 2,500 years old living city are likely to change,” Khan said Friday.

Ambassador Khalilzad is 13 days into an 18-day visit to the region. He has traveled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium and plans to visit the U.A.E. and Qatar.

Withdrawal an issue

Pakistani officials privy to the U.S. interaction with the Taliban have told VOA that until now no progress has been achieved because the insurgents adamantly demand “a date or timeframe” for all foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban decides to participate in an intra-Afghan peace process.

Also Read: What to Make of Taliban’s Continued Rare Silence on Ghani’s Peace Offer? 

U.S. officials have long maintained Taliban leaders are sheltering in Pakistan with covert support from the country’s intelligence agency. Washington has been urging Islamabad to use its influence to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan and continue to pose serious battlefield challenges for U.S.-backed Afghan security forces. (VOA)