ISLAMABAD (AP) — Four nations — Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States — ended talks Wednesday much as they began, seeking peace in Afghanistan but with no real progress on how to get there or how to bring the most powerful of the country's insurgent groups, the Taliban, to the negotiating table.
The session ended with a promise to pursue peace, and to pressure warring groups to engage in negotiations. It also condemned violence, with a specific reference to the ferocious April 19 attack in Kabul that killed 64 people.
But there was nothing in the final communique to indicate how the quartet was going to get the Taliban, who have been insistent that they will not talk to the Afghan government, to embrace peace talks.
It did, however, make a reference to those who carried out the April assault on Kabul warning, "those who perpetrate such acts of terrorism should be ready to face consequences of their actions."
It did not specify the consequences and until now Pakistan has refused to launch any direct assault on the Haqqani network, which has been blamed by both Afghanistan and the United States for the April Kabul attack. The chief of the Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, also is deputy to Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, giving added muscle to the Taliban as it plots its battlefield strategies over the traditionally deadly summer months.
The four-way talks, which have been held alternately in Pakistan and Afghanistan since the beginning of the year, had sought to capitalize on positive signals that emerged over the weekend in Afghanistan, where the outlawed militant group Hezb-i-Islami inched closer to a peace deal with Kabul.
There are hopes this tentative deal — which still has to be approved by the Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Helmatyar, a U.S.-designated terrorist — could be a template for an agreement between the Afghan government and the more powerful Taliban.
But the Taliban have repeatedly said they first want to hold talks with the United States — something Washington has rejected.
Pakistan's adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz said previously that peace talks remain the only way to end the fighting in Afghanistan. Years of fighting the Taliban has not destroyed them, Aziz said, adding that now was the time to press for talks.
Kabul sent no formal delegation to Wednesday's meeting in Islamabad, which was attended only by the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal.
The apparent slight was to register Afghanistan's frustration with Pakistan over what Kabul considers inaction against Taliban operating on Pakistani soil, said Dawa Khan Menapal, deputy spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Afghanistan and the U.S. are pushing Pakistan to do more to stop attacks in Afghanistan by militants with bases in Pakistan and to use its influence to force them off the battlefield and into talks.
The draft deal with Hezb-i-Islami took months of meetings between Hekmatyar's representatives and those of the government to hammer out, said Mohammad Khan, first deputy for Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Hekmatyar's battlefield strength, however, is largely restricted to a portion of northeastern Afghanistan and pales in comparison to the Taliban. His Hezb-i-Islami also harbors deep divisions with the Taliban, who drove Hekmatyar from Afghanistan in 1996 and forced him to live in exile in Iran for five years until 2001, when the U.S.-led coalition drove the Taliban from power.
Associated Press writer Lynne O'Donnell in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.