UNITED NATIONS - Pakistan has urged both Afghan parties - the government and the Taliban - to seize the opportunity for peace by entering into talks aimed at ending the prolonged conflict to usher in durable peace in Afghanistan.

Speaking in the UN Security Council on Thursday, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi said that amid deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani had made a dignified proposal for talks without preconditions with the Taliban, offering an opportunity to advance a credible peace process.

The international community too had endorsed the goal of a negotiated settlement through an Afghan led and Afghan-owned process, she added.

Pakistan would play its part in fostering such a dignified process, she said, renewing the call for the Taliban to renounce violence and join the peace talks.

But the Pakistani envoy also cautioned against the "complex and delicate" task ahead in the war-torn country.

"Seizing this opportunity requires an understanding that the simultaneous resort to more kinetic actions – the escalation of military force to 'shape the battlefield' – will evoke an escalation of attacks by the insurgents and erode rather than advance the prospect of initiating the envisaged political process," Maleeha Lodhi said, adding, that both the Afghan government and its coalition allies as well as the Taliban should have now learnt that neither can impose a military victory on the other.

"The renewed escalation of force will impose further suffering on Afghanistan’s innocent civilian population," she said.

Thursday's meeting on the situation in Afghanistan, organised by the Netherlands, the Council President this month, was held on International Women's Day.

In her remarks, the Pakistani envoy said, while the peace talks would be “Afghan-led and Afghan owned”, the other parties involved, including the US, will need to be engaged in the negotiating process.

Also, she said the international community must oppose any efforts by "some regional powers and Afghan parties" to derail the peace process outlined by President Ashraf.

The Pakistani envoy voiced serious concern about the rapid rise of the presence of Daesh in Afghanistan, citing recent report that the Afghan Government controls only 18 per cent of the country’s districts, and has influence in an additional 38 per cent, while the rest was ungoverned.

"The elimination of Daesh and its affiliates must be accorded a high priority in the endeavour to achieve durable peace in the region," she said, pointing to their presence in ungoverned and contested spaces in Afghanistan’s North and the East.

The Pakistani envoy also called on the Afghan government and its international partners to break the nexus between drug production and terrorism.

On its part, Ambassador Lodhi said Pakistan has successfully turned the tide against terrorism by conducting the largest and most sustained anti-terrorism campaign anywhere in the world with the deployment of over 200,000 troops.  

Now, she said, the threat of terrorism in Pakistan emanates principally from outside its boundaries.

In this context, she cited Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa's remarks at the recent Munich Security Conference that out of the 131 terrorist attacks on Pakistani territory, 123 were conceived, planned and executed from Afghanistan.

"This is happening despite the presence of the most powerful military alliance in Afghanistan," she said.

At the outset of her speech, Ambassador Lodhi said that the UN Secretary General’s report painted a bleak picture of Afghanistan, marked by its political impasse and economic situation, as well as production and trafficking of drugs.

Such activities took place within a security environment that, in 2017, had witnessed an increase in air strikes and terrorist attacks, and the highest number of civilian casualties ever recorded in that country, she stated.

The continuing presence of large numbers of terrorist groups and foreign terrorist fighters in Afghanistan pose a threat to the long-term stability of Afghanistan, its neighbours, including Pakistan, and the entire region, the Pakistani envoy said.

Pakistan, she said, also had offered hospitality to Afghan people over the past several decades, and continued to host the largest protracted presence of refugees anywhere in the world.

It had delayed sending those refugees back to Afghanistan on compassionate grounds, she said.

In conclusion, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi said that she stood with her “sisters in Afghanistan” in support of their rights and liberty, calling an assault on their rights an assault on those of women everywhere. 

The meeting was chaired by the Netherland's Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation, Sigrid Kaag, who led an all-women delegation.