ISLAMABAD  - Representatives of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and United States adopted a roadmap Saturday in Islamabad to facilitate direct peace talks between the Afghan government and Afghan Taliban.

The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) members adopted a roadmap, stipulating the stages and steps of the peace process, for direct peace talks between the representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban groups expected to take place by end of this month.

The four states group stressed that the outcome of the reconciliation process should be a political settlement that results in the cessation of violence and durable peace in Afghanistan a statement issued after the third QCG meeting held here yesterday in Islamabad.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Srataj in his opening statement at the third round of QCG talks said that Pakistan wanted as many Taliban groups as possible to be engaged in peace parleys with Afghan government to ensure significant reduction in violence and establishment of durable peace in the restive country.

Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry hosted the meeting. Other delegations were led by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard G Olson and China’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Ambassador Deng Xijun.

Calling on all Taliban groups to join the peace talks, the QCG countries agreed to continue joint efforts for setting a date for direct peace talks expected by the end of February 2016, according to the joint statement issued after the meeting.

The group members further agreed to continue regular meetings to ensure a smooth way forward in the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. It agreed to hold next meeting in Kabul on February 23, 2016.

The Nation in a report published on January 12 had mentioned the talks between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders are expected by end of February.

But some independent analysts closely watching the developments still saw the whole exercise with scepticism. According to them, QCG would be finding it hard to bring all the warring Taliban groups on the table as some of them are still averse to the negotiations with Afghan government.

The Taliban leaders have yet not indicated to withdraw their preconditions for considering end to hostilities and joining parleys. They have demanded release of their prisoners including those under US custody, removal of senior leaders from the United Nations sanctions list, and withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

In his opening statement to the QCG meeting, PM Adviser Sartaj Aziz said that political reconciliation was the only viable option for promoting durable peace in Afghanistan, reiterating Pakistan’s stance that peaceful Afghanistan was vital for regional peace and stability.

“We firmly believe that a politically negotiated settlement through an all inclusive intra-Afghan reconciliation process will contribute towards accomplishing our shared goal of lasting peace in Afghanistan,” he said.

He reaffirmed that for Pakistan, peace in Afghanistan was very important for regional peace and stability for what the former had been engaged in serious and consistent efforts to facilitate an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process.

He appreciated the Afghan government’s commitment and efforts for durable peace in Afghanistan, besides lauding the constructive role of the United States and China for facilitating the peace process.

He said the quadrilateral process was the manifestation of shared commitment to undertake joint efforts for realising the goal of reducing violence and achieving long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan, and the region.

He observed that the group had made steady progress in its first two meetings, held in Islamabad and Kabul respectively, demonstrating clarity as well as seriousness of purpose.

He said calling on Taliban groups by QCG for talks with Afghan government without precondition was the reiteration of a strong message by the international community for peace talks to find a basis for enduring political settlement in Afghanistan.

“I am hopeful that continuing with this spirit and resolve, the Group will now focus on the early adoption of a roadmap for the reconciliation process and identify the way forward for holding direct peace talks between the representatives of the Government of Afghanistan and Taliban groups as early as possible,” he remarked.

Sartaj Aziz also emphasized that Pakistan fully shared Afghanistan’s concern that increasing violence was a key challenge, and its reduction should be an important objective of peace talks.

He said people of Afghanistan did suffer from an unending cycle of violence for decades and QCG’s efforts towards advancing political reconciliation in Afghanistan were of crucial importance.

He viewed that a clear, well-defined and actionable roadmap for peace process between the Afghan government and Taliban groups was important. It should identify and stipulate various stages of the process while measuring the progress, being made at each stage, he added.

He said the roadmap should also serve to convey positive signals about unflinching commitment of the parties to the peace process.

Sartaj Aziz emphasised the Group to focus on proper sequencing of the measures in the peace process, timely joint decisions and actions on key issues, and effective coordination among the QCG countries, as the reconciliation process moved forward and delivered the desired outcome.

Regarding the peace process, he said, QCG’s collective efforts at this stage, including thorough supportive confidence building measures (CBMs), have to be aimed at persuading maximum number of Taliban groups to join the peace talks.

“This will contribute to imparting a momentum to the process, offering incentive of political mainstreaming to the insurgent groups, and gradually shrink the space for the irreconcilables.”

Sartaj Aziz said the quadrilateral framework was based on mutual consensus that political reconciliation is the most viable option for promoting long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan, therefore, all-out efforts and energies must be utilized on keeping the process on track.