Pakistan and the United States have agreed to work together for an early resumption of the stalled Afghan peace talks process.
Pakistan media reports the understanding was reached during the recently concluded visit of Pakistan’s Army Chief General Raheel Sharif to the United States where he held extensive discussions with key figures of the Obama administration, including Vice President Joe Biden.
“There is a sort of agreement that there is a need to move on the Afghan reconciliation thing very quickly depending on the conditions,” a senior diplomatic source, who had been briefed on the trip, told the media in a background briefing.
Afghanistan was the focus of Sharif’s visit, during which he also discussed Pakistan’s strained ties with India, military cooperation, strategic (nuclear) issues and other regional matters.
“The general quite candidly conveyed his views on the issue, both the political and the strategic perspective, to his interlocutors,” the source said.
Sharif is believed to have communicated Pakistan’s fears in accepting the facilitation role that it is expected to play for reviving the process. The Pakistani side is primarily concerned about the Afghan security establishment thwarting a renewed process.
Military spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa too, had in one of his tweets on the army chief’s visit said that “requirement of conducive environment for re-initiating Afghan peace process” was emphasized.
The two sides (Pakistan and US), however, have not set any timeframe for getting back on track the talks process, which was disrupted after news of Mullah Omar’s death two years earlier was leaked just days before Islamabad was set to host the second round of reconciliation dialogue.
Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan also came under strain because of the suspension of the peace dialogue and the accompanying increase in violence.
“It would have been imprudent to set the timeframe without getting the Afghan government and China on board,” the source explained. China, it should be recalled, has been lately playing a proactive role in Afghanistan and participated in the first round of talks on July 7 as an observer along with the US, Dawn media reported.
However, the source said it was expected that a “lot of ground would be covered during the Heart of Asia Conference”, which Pakistan is co-hosting with Afghanistan on Dec 7-8. It is speculated that President Ashraf Ghani would visit Islamabad on this occasion.
Chinese Special Envoy on Afghanistan Ambassador Deng Xijun, who visited Pakistan last week, also offered to facilitate the Afghan dialogue, provided other stakeholders agreed to the proposal. A concerted diplomatic push for resumption of the reconciliation process is clearly afoot.