ISLAMABAD - There were no big claims after the Quadrilateral Coordination Group meeting here yesterday over the Afghan peace process, but the quartet agreed that peace remained the sole option, officials said.

The QCG, comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and China, reiterated during the fifth meeting of the group that violence served no purpose and peace negotiations remained the sole option for a political settlement in the war-ravaged Afghanistan. The four countries are trying to chalk out a roadmap to revive peace talks with the Afghan Taliban and end the 15-year-long insurgency.

The host, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, represented Pakistan, while other delegations were led by Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, the Special Representative of the United States for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard G Olson, and China’s Special Envoy for Afghan Affairs Ambassador Deng Xijun.

An official statement issued after the meeting said: “The next QCG meeting will be convened as mutually agreed, indicating there were no big decisions apart from the will to continue talks.”

It added: “The QCG reiterated that violence serves no purpose and that peace negotiations remain the only option for a political settlement. In this respect, the QCG countries reaffirmed to use their respective leverages and influences.”

The QCG strongly condemned the April 19 terrorist attack in Kabul and said those who perpetrated such acts of terrorism should be ready to face consequences of their actions.

The QCG members expressed their continued determination with shared commitment to advance the goal of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.

A senior official at the Foreign Ministry told The Nation the Afghan side suspected the Taliban’s willingness to talk and commit to long-lasting peace. “The participants have agreed to take the talks process further, but at the moment this is the only big news we have. There have been no decisions that could make headlines,” he added.

The official said Afghanistan asked Pakistan to stop the alleged infiltration of militants who were destroying the peace in the neighbouring country.

Another official said Pakistan rejected the Afghan allegations and told the participants Islamabad was committed to peace in the region and had always preferred the dialogue process with its neighbours, including Afghanistan and India.

He said the US showed optimism that Pakistan’s efforts for peace would be fruitful, asserting talks alone were the solution to all the problems.

Taliban insurgents in recent months have repeatedly seized parts of more than 2,000-mile-long Ring Road network which connects major Afghan population centres.

The last meeting was held on February 23 in Kabul and the Afghan government had announced that peace talks with the Taliban would start in the first week of March. But the talks could not start as Taliban refused to join.

Direct Afghan-Taliban talks began last year, but ended abruptly after it was revealed that Taliban’s founder, Mullah Omar, had been dead for two years. The group had made the withdrawal of the 13,000 foreign troops still in Afghanistan a precondition for talks.

Ahead of the meeting, Afghan Ambassador Dr Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal said: “The talks are no longer aimed at reviving negotiations with the Taliban. We have gone past that now. We are talking about serious steps that need to be taken against the Taliban. They refuse to come to a peaceful negotiation, so we need to discuss actions needed based on that. Despite that, peace still remains our preferred option.” He alleged the Taliban were using their conditions as an excuse to continue violence.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the group would not budge on its demands. “They (Afghan government) have been giving out such statements since long and it doesn’t scare us,” he said.

He added: “Our conditions are still the same. We demand the implementation of Islamic law in Afghanistan and the departure of all foreign forces.”

Muhammad Nafees Zakaria, spokesman for the Foreign Office, said the Islamabad meeting was aimed at resolving the ongoing conflict, the effect it has on Pakistan and the implementation of the plan prepared in the previous meetings. “When we talk of peace, we are not talking about conditions, we are talking about requirements,” he said.

The spokesman added: “In the past, we have invited the Taliban to talk about the requirements for peace and stability in Afghanistan, but they have always refused. Pakistan is the most affected country due to the conflict and that is why we are committed to fighting terrorism and making every possible effort to bring peace.”

Last month Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accused Pakistan of sheltering the militants and asked Islamabad to fight Taliban instead of engaging them in talks.

On Wednesday a senior Afghan official sounded a more optimistic note. “We are hopeful this time after we had complaints regarding Pakistan, over not bringing the Taliban to the negotiation table. There is pressure on Pakistan by the US and China, the important participants of the talks,” Mawlawi Shahzada Shahid, a spokesman for a group called the High Peace Council, told AFP in Kabul.

He added that a visit in April to Pakistan by a senior Taliban delegation from their political office in Qatar had further raised hopes. “Pakistan had somehow convinced them to come back to the talks, and I believe there will be progress and development this time around,” Shahid said.

According to Reuters, the Afghan government declined to send a delegation from Kabul for the new talks, saying its ambassador in Islamabad would represent the government until Pakistan lives up to promises to crack down on Afghan Taliban sheltering on its soil.

A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Afghanistan would not be sending a delegation from Kabul. “The Afghan delegation that participated from Afghanistan will not participate until Pakistan fulfils its promises made during previous meetings,” Dawa Khan Menapal said.

Pakistan had expressed confidence it could pressure Taliban representatives to return to the negotiating table by March, but the insurgents released a statement in late February refusing to join.

Ghani angrily demanded that Pakistan use force to expel Taliban and allied insurgents from its territory last month after a big truck bomb killed 64 people in Kabul.