Pakistan urges Taliban leaders to begin peace talks

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Pakistan has urged senior Taliban leaders to start delayed peace talks with Kabul, telling them the Afghanistan war has “no military solution”.

“Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi underscored Prime Minister Imran Khan’s consistent stance that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and that a political settlement was the only way forward,” read a statement from the Pakistan foreign ministry.

Kabul and the Taliban were supposed to have started talks in March, but are at loggerheads over a controversial prisoner swap that includes hundreds of militant inmates tied to high-profile attacks conducted over the past 19 years.

The Islamabad meeting between Qureshi and the Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the group’s co-founder who spent eight years in Pakistani custody, came shortly after a suicide bombing near an army base in the northern Afghan province of Balkh.

The Taliban-claimed assault comes amid continued violence in Afghanistan, with insurgents conducting daily attacks across the country and in Kabul.

It killed two civilians and one commando and wounded more than 40 other people, military spokesman for the region Hanif Rezayee said. Many houses were damaged or destroyed and soldiers were helping get victims to safety, he added.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the attack was revenge for a video circulating online that appeared to show Afghan troops desecrating the bodies of Taliban fighters in the south.

No Hugs

Pakistan’s foreign ministry released photos of Mehmood Qureshi greeting the Taliban without making physical contact. A similar visit last year drew scorn from Afghan officials when Qureshi and the Taliban were shown smiling and embracing.

Tuesday’s greeting was without hugs, apparently to maintain social distancing necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic and most from the two sides were wearing masks on the occasion.

Tense Ties

Tensions remain high between Islamabad and Kabul, with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani frequently lashing out at Pakistan for allegedly sheltering, funding and supplying the Taliban.

Pakistan, on the other hand, accuses Kabul of sheltering and nurturing anti-Pakistan militant groups that launch cross-border terror attacks into its territory. A recent report by the UN lend credibility to Islamabad’s claims. According to that report, around 6,000 anti-Pakistan militants have taken refuge in Afghanistan.

Pakistan Role in Peace Talks

Pakistan was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban regime in the 1990s. It has said that its influence over the Taliban has encouraged the militants to join talks with the US that culminated in February with a deal that would see foreign military forces quit Afghanistan.

Qureshi “emphasized the implementation of the US-Taliban Peace Agreement, in its entirety, paving the way for the earliest possible commencement of Intra-Afghan Negotiations,” the foreign ministry stated.

Do More Demand

Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said Pakistan should do more to bring peace.

“Pakistan has so far failed to deliver on its commitments when it comes to peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Sediqqi was reporting as saying by the AFP news agency.

“We expect the Pakistani government to take practical steps and cooperate with the Afghan government and the international community to help bring stability in the region.”

The warring Taliban and Afghan government had signaled they were prepared to launch negotiations immediately after the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, which ended earlier this month, but the process became bogged down over the prisoner swap.

Both sides have fought for nearly two decades in a conflict that has left tens of thousands of people dead.

Continuation of Violence

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, when it was ousted by a US-led invasion. Ghani condemned Tuesday’s attack on the military base and urged the Taliban to begin talks.

“The Taliban’s emphasis on continuation of violence poses challenges to the peace opportunities,” Ghani said, according to Sediqqi.

“The Taliban should give up fighting and killing Afghans, accept a ceasefire and start direct talks with the government of Afghanistan.”

In a separate incident Tuesday, gunmen shot and wounded Saba Sahar, a well-known Afghan actress and women’s rights campaigner.

Police said Sahar’s driver and bodyguard were also wounded in the Kabul attack.