Afghan official: No plans to revive peace talks with Taliban

AP News
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Posted: Jul 14, 2016 6:15 AM
Afghan official: No plans to revive peace talks with Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan has no plans to revive a peace process aimed at bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table after a four-nation effort earlier this year produced no results, Afghan officials said Thursday.

The remarks reflect the Kabul administration's disappointment over what it has described as half-hearted efforts by neighboring Pakistan to jumpstart the peace process and could also signal a widening divide between the two neighbors.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly accused Islamabad of harboring Taliban leaders — an accusation that Islamabad denies.

Haroon Chakhansuri, Ghani's spokesman, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the four-nation group — Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States — has no plans to meet again anytime soon.

The group has met five times since January, in Kabul and in Pakistan. The meetings did not include the Taliban, who have refused to join peace talks.

"There is no set time for another meeting of the group," Chakhansuri said, warning that Afghanistan continues to suffer from "terrorist groups that operate from and have a support base in Pakistan."

Javid Faizal, a spokesman for Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, accused Pakistan of failing to keep promises made at earlier meetings, including ending support to the Taliban, whose leaders are widely believed to be based in Pakistani cities near the border, including Quetta.

Pakistan "is still supporting the insurgency, providing medical facilities, training, financing, which shows they have not kept their promises to make the Taliban join the peace process," he said. "If they haven't fulfilled even the first stage, it is not possible to move to the second stage."

But Faizal stressed that Kabul's participation in peace talks at some future date has not been ruled out — especially if the "United States and China can guarantee a fruitful outcome." The remark appeared to be a veiled appeal on Washington and Beijing to pressure Islamabad.

Ghani took office in 2014 promising peace and began overtures to Islamabad aimed at ending the war. But after a number of large-scale suicide attacks in Kabul, he cut the dialogue with Pakistan, demanding Islamabad cease support for the Taliban and close affiliate, the Haqqani network.

President Barack Obama earlier this month scrapped plans to significantly cut the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 5,500 at the end of the year, though reducing the number slightly through 2017. The move was widely seen as acknowledging the deteriorating security situation since the withdrawal in 2014 of most international combat troops.

Since then, the Taliban have spread their footprint across the country, though expanded authorities issued by Obama have allowed U.S. troops to work more closely with their Afghan counterparts on the battlefield and use air power against the militants — marking a significant turnabout from defensive to offensive operations.

In Islamabad, a senior Pakistani security official familiar with the Afghan peace process echoed Chakhansuri's statement.

"The peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul are not likely to be resumed soon," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media. However, he added that "neither the Taliban nor Afghan government are interested in reviving" the talks.

He blamed the Afghan side for scuttling the peace process by going last July with a statement that Taliban founder and leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had been dead for more than two years.

The Taliban — which has been in turmoil since Mullah Omar's death became known — refused to join the peace process once Mullah Akhtar Mansoor took over. Mansoor was killed in a U.S. drone strike in May and replaced by a religious extremist, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, who has also rejected peace talks.

U.S. and Afghan civilian and military officials have said they expect Akhundzada to step up the war to consolidate his position and those of his deputies, Mullah Omar's son Yaqub and the head of the Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani.

The four-country group was formed in January to help bring the Talban into dialogue with Kabul. But Ghani made clear his impatience with its lack of progress at the last meeting in Islamabad in May, when he sent only his ambassador to Pakistan rather than a high-level Kabul delegation as he had done previously.

Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria confirmed Thursday that no new meetings of the four-country group are planned, though he insisted that "Pakistan will support any effort aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan."

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Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.