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November 1, 2017

Pakistan, US divided on how to start Afghan peace talks


November 1, 2017

ISLAMABAD : Pakistan has cautioned the US that "cooperation," not "coercion," is the way forward for the two countries to find a politically negotiated end to an increasingly deadly war in Afghanistan, reports Voice of America.

The message was conveyed to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he undertook his inaugural visit to Islamabad last Tuesday for detailed talks, led by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, with civilian and military leaders, say Pakistani officials.

The discussions focused on regional counterterrorism efforts and promoting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, while speaking to VOA Monday, described Bajwa’s discussions with Tillerson as "candid, frank and without mincing words."

The army chief reiterated that “cooperation will take us forward; confrontation or coercion will not,” Ghafoor said. Pakistan re-emphasized that it supports an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and believes “reconciliation” is the way forward to end the war.

“We have done our part [on our side of the border] and shall continue to contribute toward enduring peace and stability in the region, keeping Pakistan’s interest supreme,” said the army spokesman. Pakistan denies allegations of havens on its soil, saying its security forces have cleared the country of militants.

Other stakeholders, said Ghafoor, also need to adopt a “methodology” which encourages progress for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. He did not elaborate. Officials in Pakistan say U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is also relying on its military might, like its predecessor did, to pressure the Taliban to come to the negotiating table, despite knowing the policy has not worked during the past 16 years.

"They [the United States] do want to go for reconciliation but they need to review their current strategy for achieving results,” said a Pakistani government official while speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The official added that the Afghan government also needs to do "a lot" in terms of creating conditions to encourage the Taliban to engage in a peace process.

Pakistani officials maintain Kabul and Washington need to offer the Taliban a peace dialogue first and that the Qatar-based political office of the insurgents could be utilized for that purpose. It may help, they say, to separate those Talibanleaders who are in favour of talks from those who oppose reconciliation and, eventually, it will justify military operations against “irreconcilables.”

Officials acknowledge that Islamabad and Washington continue to hold widely divergent views on how to kickstart an Afghan peace process and last week’s discussions did not bring the two sides closer on the issue.

Pakistan also points to the Taliban's growing contacts with countries like Russia, China and Iran, saying these countries are now better placed than Islamabad to influence the insurgents to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government.

Islamabad's influence over the Taliban is "often overestimated" in Washington," according to a Pakistani Foreign Ministry official who also spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity. In his post-Pakistan visit comments, Tillerson said the United States is in contact with the Taliban through “back channels” and the Doha office, saying there is a role for the group in the Afghan government.

He went on to say the Afghan government has a special responsibility to create the conditions to invite the Taliban to the negotiating table.   The Taliban have long maintained they will not engage in any peace talks until all American and NATO forces leave Afghanistan and allow Afghans to determine a political reconciliation process.

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