Islamabad: Pakistani and Afghan members of the civil society and researchers will be opening a two-day dialogue in Islamabad on Monday to help improve bilateral relations at a time when mistrust has badly affected official contacts between the two countries.
Organizers said “the Pakistan-Afghanistan Track 1.5/II project Beyond Boundaries has assumed unusual significance because of the current tensions and the stalled dialogue between the two governments”.
The key objectives of the initiative are expanding the peace constituency through friendship groups in both countries; improving support for better Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship through dialogue among the influential stakeholders and informing policy makers through consensus recommendations.
The working groups on regional security and civil society will address varied themes that are important in the peace process between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is also expected to build upon existing commonalities and increase future people-to-people contact.
“The Track 1.5/II becomes important also because the bilateral relationship has been fraught with mutual mistrust been the proxy battleground for complicated regional relationships,” Imtiaz Gul, the Pakistani organizer told the media.
Gul’s Centre of Research and Security Studies (CRSS) has launched the process in partnership with its Afghan counterpart DURAN Research and Analysis (DRA).
“The arrival of the Afghan civil society and youth delegation marks the resumption of dialogue between non-governmental and political stakeholders from the two countries to the backdrop of a politically difficult and challenging environment,” a CRSS statement said.
Initiatives like beyond boundaries will bring together influential government and non-governmental stakeholders who can help lessen tensions, address misconceptions, and revive some level of confidence, it added.
The process will also urge both governments and key stakeholders away from the prior behavior of confrontation and an antagonistic-approach towards a more trust and collaborative-based approach for peace, security, and regional cooperation.
The fledgling U.S.-initiated dialogue with the Taliban, aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, has come to a halt, an insurgent spokesperson said Monday, apparently dealing a blow to renewed hopes for a much-needed Afghan peace.
The disclosure comes as the chief U.S. negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, is visiting regional countries, including China, India and Pakistan, to work toward a negotiated political settlement to the 17-year-old conflict.
“The (dialogue) process has halted for now so the venue and the date for a future meeting are not known,” a senior Taliban official privy to the developments confirmed to VOA when asked whether their peace talks with the U.S. are still on track.
The insurgent official, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to share reasons behind the suspension of negotiations.
The U.S. State Department had no immediate response. When contacted Monday, a spokesperson said the department press office is operating on a reduced status due to the partial U.S. government shutdown.
Afghan government primary issue
The Afghan government is currently not participating in the peace talks, but American officials are eager to bring them to the table. It is widely perceived that the current deadlock is primarily over the Taliban’s rejection of the U.S. insistence to speak directly with the Afghan government.
Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah cautioned again Monday that while Kabul welcomes Khalilzad’s ongoing peace efforts, its involvement in talks is key to achieving the objective. “The people of Afghanistan will consider these efforts seriously when they see representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban at the negotiation table,” Abdullah told a weekly meeting of Cabinet ministers in Kabul.
Others involved in the negotiations warn they could fall apart unless both sides show some flexibility. “If not supported by real give and take — even some initial give and take — a doubt may soon set in about the dialogue process itself. This is what we are eager to prevent at all costs. If it happened, a more severe type of stalemate will take over,” warned a diplomat whose country was represented at the meeting in Abu Dhabi.
The Taliban maintain the United States is their primary adversary in the conflict and accuse Afghan leaders as well as security forces of being American “puppets.”
Initial signs of tension amid the talks had emerged last week when a Taliban statement alleged the U.S. approach to the dialogue was “non-serious” and “superficial.”
In a Pashto language statement circulated through its social media accounts, the insurgent group asserted that in talks with Taliban envoys, U.S. negotiators were focusing on issues that Afghans themselves have to resolve without foreign interference.
The Taliban also accused Washington of pressuring the group through Islamic countries and leaking details of discussions to the news media for the sake of propaganda. “We cannot agree on any other issues as long as the independence of Afghanistan is in the occupation of foreigners,” the Taliban statement warned.
Nearly a month since last round of talks
The last round of substantial U.S.-Taliban talks occurred on December 17 in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Pakistan took credit for arranging the two-day meeting several months after U.S. officials directly engaged Taliban political envoys based in Qatar to explore Afghan peace possibilities.
Both Khalilzad and the Taliban described as “productive” their interaction in Abu Dhabi, where representatives of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE were also in attendance.
The Taliban had announced at the end of the meeting that the negotiating sides agreed to reconvene “after deliberations and consultations by both sides with their respective leaderships.”
Insurgents maintain that their representatives in talks with the U.S. team have focused on seeking a timeline for withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan and assuring American interlocutors that Afghan soil will never again be used for terrorism against the United States.
Khalilzad in China
Khalilzad visited China on Monday after holding talks with officials in India as part of his current four-nation trip that includes Afghanistan. The Afghan-born U.S. envoy is due to arrive in Islamabad on Tuesday to further his discussions with Pakistani leaders and push his Afghan peace mission, although the latest insurgent assertions have raised doubts about the future of the U.S.-led efforts to end the war in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan was by far the deadliest country in 2018, with nearly as many reported fatalities as Syria and Yemen combined, says the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). The non-governmental organization collates and analyzes data on political violence and protests around the world.