Pakistan warns against spoilers as Afghan rivals begin talks for ‘lasting peace’


DOHA: Pakistan on Saturday warned the international community against the role of spoilers as Afghan rivals begin peace talks in Qatar for a ‘lasting peace’ in the war-torn country.

A slick opening ceremony in the Qatari capital Doha on Saturday saw the Afghan government, and allies including the US, call for a ceasefire.

But the Taliban, who have fought a guerrilla campaign against both since they were forced from power in 2001, did not mention a truce as they came to the negotiating table.

Addressing the opening session through video link, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi termed the commencement of peace talks a global recognition of Pakistan’s stance of no-military solution to Afghan dispute rather a political solution being only a way forward.

The foreign minister said that the forthcoming negotiations were for the Afghans to decide about their future.

“The Afghans alone must be the masters of their destiny without outside influence or interference.

The spoilers from within and from without will pose formidable challenges. Constant vigilance will be required to guard against their machinations,” Qureshi said.

In an interview with AFP, the head of the peace process for the Afghan government suggested that the Taliban could offer a truce in exchange for the release of more of their jailed fighters.

“This could be one of their ideas or one of their demands,” said Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation.

Negotiations will be arduous and messy, delegates warned during the opening ceremony, and are starting even as deadly violence continues to grip Afghanistan.

“We will undoubtedly encounter many challenges in the talks over the coming days, weeks and months,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said as he called for the warring sides to “seize this opportunity” to secure peace.

Nearly two decades since the US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, the war still kills dozens of people daily and the country’s economy has been shattered, pushing millions into poverty.

The Taliban have long worried that reducing violence could lessen their leverage.

– ‘Very positive’ –

During a speech at the opening event, Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar repeated the movement’s message that Afghanistan should be run according to Islamic law, highlighting a likely sticking point.

A comprehensive peace deal could take years, and will depend on the willingness of both sides to tailor their competing visions for Afghanistan and the extent to which they can agree to share power.

President Ashraf Ghani’s government wants to maintain the Western-backed status quo of a constitutional republic that has enshrined many rights, including greater freedoms for women.

Four of the 21 people on the Kabul negotiating team are women.

The Taliban, who stripped women of all basic freedoms while in power from 1996-2001, had no female negotiators.

In a statement, Ghani called for “a lasting and dignified peace” that preserved “the achievements of the past 19 years”.

Kabul negotiator Habiba Sarabi told AFP the start of talks had been “very positive”.

The US-backed negotiations come six months later than planned owing to disagreements over a controversial prisoner swap agreed in February.

Under the terms of that force withdrawal deal struck between the US and the Taliban, 5,000 Taliban prisoners have already been released in exchange for 1,000 government forces.

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