ISLAMABAD - Afghan leaders who gathered here yesterday for a roundtable conference urged the United States not to strike a peace deal with the Taliban only.

The participants including Member Parliament and Head of Hizb-e-Wahdat Mardam-e-Afghan Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq, HWMA delegation, former ambassador Mohammed Sadiq, former ambassador Arif Durrani, Analyst A Z Hilali, Dr Salma Malik, Dr Azmat Hayat, and others, believed the peace process should be ‘plural’ not ‘singular.’ The roundtable was organised by the Lahore Centre for Peace Research under the ‘Lahore Process’ for peace. 

The conference participants acknowledged that Pakistan had been contributing as a facilitator for the peace of Afghanistan. There was a consensus that the war needed to end and intra-Afghan dialogue was the key for Afghanistan long-lasting peace.

The Afghan guest speakers encouraged Pakistan to extend cooperation to explore more opportunities of economic engagement and cultural integration for the greater good of both the states and consequently for the regional stability.

Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq pointed out that peace was the greatest desire of today’s Afghanistan. “For a long lasting peace structural changes are required and the emphasis must be given on domestic concerns for a broad-based political solution to the Afghanistan,” he said.

The Afghan leader said that a sociological transformation grounded on civil rights in general and women rights in particular was the pivot point for the structural change.

The LCPR offers a unique platform for researchers, think tanks, policy makers and the civil society from around the world to share information and work in close cooperation. The Center also hosts guest researchers and interns who work on issues related to LCPR’s mission and objectives.

The conference was held after the Afghan Taliban said they believed escalating military tensions between the United States and Iran were unlikely to hurt the group’s negotiations with Washington aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.

Suhail Shaheen, who speaks for the Taliban’s negotiating team, said their meetings with US interlocutors over the past year had brought the two adversaries in the 18-year-old Afghan on the verge of signing a peace deal. He dismissed reported concerns US-Iran tensions threatens the peace initiative.

“The developments will not have negative impact on the peace process because the (US-Taliban) peace agreement is finalized and only remains to be signed (by the two sides),” Shaheen asserted.

US chief peace negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad had acknowledged in early September a draft agreement had been reached with the Taliban and it could begin a US troop drawdown process in a few months.

Just days later, however, President Donald Trump temporarily suspended the peace process citing a Taliban attack that killed an American soldier and 11 other people in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The dialogue was resumed early last month only to be paused again after the Taliban staged a major attack on the largest US military base of Bagram.

Khalilzad has demanded of the Taliban to reduce attacks or observe a brief ceasefire before the talks could be resumed. But the Taliban refused to cease hostilities until the proposed agreement is signed with the US.

This week, Afghanistan’s Second Vice President Mohammad Sarwar Danish termed extremism as ‘real factor’ of tension in the region, saying an increase in the tension could negatively impact the Afghan peace process.

Danish hailed the US and Iran for not further escalating their tension, adding that extremism was the main reason of any tension and crisis in the region as pointed to recent movements in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Bahrain.

Separately, Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesperson for the Afghan Presidential Palace, said that the Taliban “must” accept a ceasefire ahead of any peace talks, adding that “without a ceasefire, there would be no peace talks.”

“Without a ceasefire, we will not reach a long-lasting peace, a peace with dignity. And a reduction of violence is not practical,” said Sediqqi.

At the roundtable conference, Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq said Afghanistan deserved to come out of the uncertainties and become a peaceful country.

He said that the LCPR was doing a good job to discuss the Afghan peace. The peace process, he added, must include all groups and parties in Afghanistan.

“It should not be Taliban specific. There are other groups also. There should be talks with all the parties. All groups should be treated equally (by the US),” he maintained. He said HWMA supported all the peace efforts by different countries and organisations.

Former ambassador Mohammed Sadiq said ther Afgahn people had seen wars for decades and it was about time to ensure peace in the country.

Former ambassador Arif Durrani said all the Afghan groups should sit together to resolve the differences and bring peace to the war-torn country.

Analyst A Z Hilali, Dr Salma Malik and Dr Azmat Hayat also stressed the need for talks to resolved the Afghanistan issue. They agreed that peace in Afghanistan would be helpful for overall peace in the region.