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Pakistan pressures Taliban for talks with Afghan govt

Taliban may hold symbolic meeting with Afghan officials as arrests continue in Pakistan, says analyst

Pakistan pressures Taliban for talks with Afghan govt

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan

The Afghan peace process has hit another snag after Pakistan failed to convince the Taliban to accept the Afghan government in the reconciliation process aimed at ending the 17-year war, officials and analysts said.

The militant group earlier this month refused to attend peace talks with the U.S. in Saudi Arabia in a show of resistance to the Kingdom's efforts to include the Afghan government in the process.

Pakistani officials say they will not lose hope and continue wooing the Taliban.

"We are not done yet despite their [Taliban] outright refusal. We are trying to find a middle way in order to at least resume the process," a senior military officer told Anadolu Agency wishing not to be named as he was not allowed to speak to the media.

Islamabad, he said, was trying to arrange a meeting between the Taliban and the visiting U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, in an attempt to break the deadlock.

"We believe that the Taliban should agree on that [meeting]. We have already conveyed the message to the Taliban, who have sought some time to consult with their Shura [consultative body] to reach a decision," the official said adding that the meeting is expected to be held this week or the next, either in Islamabad or some other neutral venue.

The U.S. envoy arrived in Islamabad on Thursday and held talks with the Pakistani leadership seeking help to bring back the Taliban to negotiations.

His visit -- the fifth in the last few months -- was reportedly delayed twice in order to allow Taliban leaders to consult with each other over the proposed meeting with the top U.S. negotiator.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has already rejected Washington's demand accusing it of drifting from the agenda and "unilaterally adding new subjects".

In December, Pakistan confirmed it had arranged rare direct talks between Washington and the Taliban paving the way for a negotiated settlement of the conflict that has entered its 18th year.

Pressure mounts

Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Peshawar-based expert on Afghan affairs reckons that pressure on Taliban -- both from the U.S. and Islamabad -- is mounting which may force them to hold at least "symbolic" talks with the Afghan government.

“Meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad is very much possible. But the real issue is the inclusion of Afghan government in the peace process, which is very difficult for Taliban to accept,” Yusufzai told Anadolu Agency.

"But simultaneously Taliban cannot afford to completely displease Islamabad and more raids and arrests. Therefore, if the pressure is increased, they may agree to hold at least one meeting with the Afghan government.”

He was referring to unconfirmed reports of arrests and raids on Taliban leaders in Pakistan which compelled them to hold talks with the U.S.

He went on to say the Taliban may place conditions and demands for the Afghan government which would be impossible for Kabul to entertain.

"In that case, the entire exercise will turn out to be futile,” he concluded.

Pakistan had brokered the landmark first round of direct talks between the fragile Afghan government and the Taliban in Islamabad in July 2015, but the process broke down after Taliban announced the death of their long-term leader Mullah Omer triggering a bitter power struggle within the militia.

Chances for resumption of the stalled process went further dim following death of Omer’s successor, Mullah Mansur, in a U.S. drone strike last year on Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border.

Since then, several attempts to resume the stalled peace process have been made by a four-nation group comprised of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the U.S. and China.

Until now, however, these attempts have failed to bear fruit except for a couple of rounds of direct talks between the U.S. and the Taliban.

Taliban have opened new battle fronts across the war-torn nation in recent months as Afghan security forces -- suffering casualties and desertions -- struggle to beat back a revitalized insurgency.

Pakistan released two top Taliban commanders, including former deputy chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in October this year on the U.S. demand to help facilitate the Afghan peace process.

*Islamuddin Sajid contributed to this story from Islamabad.

Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.
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