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Pakistan and Afghan Taliban have agreed on the need for earliest resumption of stalled US-Taliban peace process to end the Afghan conflict and restore peace in the war-torn Afghanistan. This was agreed during the talks of the visiting delegation of the Doha-based Taliban Political Commission (TPC), headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, with civil and military leadership of Pakistan.

The visiting Taliban reportedly called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and discussed the paused dialogue process with the US, besides other issues related to peace and stability in Afghanistan. Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed were also reportedly present in the meeting, besides other senior officials. However, no press release was issued by the PM's House.

The visit of the Taliban's high-level delegation comes at a time when US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad is also in Islamabad. However, it was not confirmed whether Khalilzad's meeting with the Taliban delegation is scheduled or not.

A senior government official who requested anonymity told Business Recorder that a meeting between the special US envoy and the Taliban delegation can only be held when the 'contentious' issues are resolved. Asked about the duration of the visit of both Khalilzad and the Baradar-led Taliban's delegation, the official said that their stay in Islamabad could be prolonged in case any progress is made.

Earlier in the day, the Taliban delegation was received by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the Foreign Office. The video visuals and the photographs, released by Foreign Office, show that DG ISI Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed was also accompanying the foreign minister to receive the Taliban delegation and later in the meeting, while senior officials of the Foreign Office including Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood were also present.

According to a Foreign Office press release, the TPC delegation called on Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The delegation was led by the head of TPC Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and it included senior members of the Commission. This is the first-ever visit of a Taliban delegation to Pakistan since the establishment of the TPC, it added.

Welcoming the delegation, the foreign minister noted that while the people of both Afghanistan and Pakistan have a shared history, geography and culture, Islam remains the strongest bond between the two brotherly countries. He added that the people of both countries had also suffered tremendously due to 40-year-long conflict and instability in Afghanistan. It was time to make all possible efforts for an early peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan, he added.

"Both sides agreed on the need for earliest resumption of the peace process," it stated, adding that the foreign minister reiterated Pakistan's commitment and continued strong support for all efforts in this regard. It was emphasized that reduction of violence by all parties to the conflict is necessary to provide an enabling environment for resumption of the peace process at an early date.

Qureshi added that Pakistan would continue to support all efforts to achieve permanent peace in Afghanistan which is essential for Pakistan's own socio-economic development and progress. He added that Pakistan has wholeheartedly supported Afghanistan in its difficult times during the past four decades. In line with the teachings of Islam and as part of its moral obligation as a friendly neighbor, Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan brothers and sisters during this period, he said, adding that all these years Pakistan has also kept reminding the world not to overlook the hardcore political, economic, socio-cultural and ethnic ground realities in Afghanistan and its immediate neighborhood.

The foreign minister said that Pakistan has maintained for several years that there is no military solution to the complex situation in Afghanistan. "An inclusive peace and reconciliation process, involving all sections of the Afghan society, is the only, practical way forward," Qureshi said.

He further noted that the direct Taliban-US talks since last year, strongly and sincerely supported by Pakistan, have now laid a firm ground for achieving a sustainable peace deal in Afghanistan. "A pacific settlement of the conflict would lead to a significant reduction of violence, end of bloodshed and long-term peace, stability and prosperity for future generations of Afghanistan," he further stated.

While appreciating the Taliban's serious engagement in the peace process, Qureshi underscored the need for taking these efforts to their logical conclusion and noted that the existing, broad regional and international consensus for achieving peace in Afghanistan at the earliest provided an unprecedented opportunity that must not be lost.

"It is up to the parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to grasp this opportunity," Qureshi said and expressed the hope that the currently paused peace process would be restarted at an early date. Thanking Pakistan for the hospitality, the TPC delegation appreciated Pakistan's support for peace in Afghanistan, the Foreign Office further stated.

Responding to media queries during weekly media briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal declined to share further details of the meetings of the Taliban delegation, saying: "This is a highly sensitive and delicate process that is being handled in a careful manner." "Pakistan wants a pacific settlement of the Afghan dispute. I cannot share any further details in the matter," he added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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