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Pakistan urges Taliban to stay engage in Afghan peace process

Taliban says it would shun summits about Afghanistan until all foreign forces leave

AT Monitoring Desk

KABUL: Pakistan has urged the Taliban to remain engaged in the Afghan peace process after the armed group said it would now shun summits about Afghanistan until all foreign forces leave.

The decision was taken after the United States said last week it would withdraw all troops by September 11 this year, later than a May 1 deadline set out by the previous administration.

“They take their own decisions but we will do whatever we can to convince them that it is in their national interest to remain engaged,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said of the Taliban in an interview with Reuters news agency in Abu Dhabi.

The refusal has thrown the peace process into disarray with Turkey scheduled for Saturday to host a summit that diplomats had hoped could create new momentum towards a political settlement between the Taliban and Afghan government.

Qureshi said withdrawal delays were always a possibility due to logistics but that the Taliban had largely succeeded in their objective for foreign troops to withdraw and so should show flexibility towards the new September 11 deadline.

“The troops will be out and a date has been given and the process starts on the 1st of May and goes on until the 11th of September so there is a definite time frame,” Qureshi said.

Sources have told Reuters Pakistan was putting pressure on the group to come back to the table.

Qureshi said he believed the Taliban would benefit from staying involved but said he had no contact with the group.

Pakistan, which helped facilitate US-Taliban negotiations in Doha that resulted in the initial May 1 withdrawal deal, wields considerable influence with the Taliban.

The group has sanctuaries in Pakistan, whose main military-run intelligence service gives them support, according to US and Afghan officials. Pakistan denies the allegation.

Qureshi said he feared violence could escalate if the peace process remains deadlocked, plunging Afghanistan into civil war and leading to an exodus of Afghans.

Pakistan, which hosts close to 3 million Afghan refugees and economic migrants, has built 90 percent of a fence along its disputed 2,500 km (1,500 mile) border with Afghanistan and would hopefully complete it by September, he said.

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