ISLAMABAD - Pakistan believes dialogue with the Taliban is the only way out for resolution of the Afghanistan issue, officials here said.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that Pakistan wanted all the major powers to play their role for peace in Afghanistan.

One official said: “We have been consistent in our demand to hold talks with the Taliban. We welcome Uzbekistan’s offer to host the dialogue process.”

He added: “Afghanistan itself wants to hold talks with the Taliban. We have discussed it many times. Russia and China support our view. The US is also partially ready for the dialogue (with Taliban).”

On March 26-27, Uzbekistan hosted a two-day Afghanistan peace conference in the capital, Tashkent. In attendance were more than 20 countries including representatives from Central Asian countries, the United States, Germany, China, Pakistan and Russia.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, his Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoyev and the European Union’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini were among the high-ranking officials who participated in the meeting. Foreign Minister Khawaja Mohammed Asif represented Pakistan.

Leading the Pakistan delegation to the conference, Asif emphasised the need of a regional approach for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. He appreciated Uzbekistan and its leadership on this regional initiative for peace in Afghanistan and cooperation on counter-terrorism and connectivity.

He said Pakistan had consistently stressed for resolution of Afghan conflict through a political settlement. He said that bringing Taliban to the table and establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan was a shared responsibility of the international community.

Asif reiterated Pakistan’s support for President Ghani’s national peace and reconciliation plan unveiled during Kabul process meeting on February 28 and his offer of peace talks to the Taliban under an Afghan-led and owned process. He said there was a need of collective pressure on Taliban to avail this opportunity to shun violence and join the peace process.

He expressed concern over unchecked proliferation of Daesh and phenomenal increase in the drug production in Afghanistan. He emphasised the need for cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours to prevent cross-border movement of terrorists and criminal networks adding that Pakistan’s proposal entitled “Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity was aimed at developing mechanisms for bilateral cooperation in security, counter-terrorism, border controls and smooth return of Afghan refugees to Afghanistan.

POWERS SEEK TO BOOST AFGHAN PEACE EFFORT

The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and more than a dozen other national delegations declared Tuesday their support for the peace process in Afghanistan after talks that the Taliban did not attend. The more than 20 signatories of a declaration, including the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain, committed to a peace process “Afghan-led and Afghan owned”, although the Taliban’s absence from the high-level conference in the Uzbek capital Tashkent cast doubt over the value of the talks.

The declaration distributed at the end of the conference noted the signatories’ “strong backing for the National Unity Government’s offer to launch direct talks with the Taliban, without any preconditions” and called on the Taliban to accept the offer.

In a statement sent to AFP via Whatsapp messenger Tuesday, the Taliban said it was “not invited to the Tashkent conference and it is too early to make a statement on its outcome”. The talks were intended to display a united front in support of direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

While the conference in Tashkent did not result in any breakthroughs, it highlighted the potential re-emergence of Uzbekistan as a diplomatic player in the region following a period of relative isolation under late leader Islam Karimov.

Since 2010, Afghanistan has been seeking direct negotiations with the Taliban but the group has never shown any real interest. The Taliban however have expressed desire to talk to the US, who they believe hold the key to end the Afghan war.

Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists in Tashkent that Moscow was ready to cooperate with Washington to launch a direct dialogue between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban.

He said Russia and the United States “should help the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban as a leading opposition force to sit down at the negotiating table and start solving their problems directly without taking advantage of contradictions of foreign players.”

Lavrov also said that President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani has once again confirmed the idea to engage the Taliban in talks as he had openly spoken in favour of “unconditional talks with the Taliban.”

International relations expert Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi said Pakistan believed in peaceful settlement of Afghan issue and supports Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.  He said Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi recently met Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Dr Omar Zakhilwal to discuss peace in Afghanistan.

“The US is pursuing its own interests in Afghanistan and is not serious to resolve the real issues. Afghan peace is not possible without help of Pakistan. The regional and international players should not chase their vested interests and help resolve the issue,” he remarked.

Meanwhile yesterday, National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs met here under the Chairmanship of Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar.

The meeting was attended by the Members of the Committee - Mian Najeebuddin Awaisi, Chaudhry Salman Hanif Khan, Dr Nafisa Shah, Syed Asghar Ali Shah, Dr Shireen Mehrunnisa Mazari, Ghous Bux Khan Maher, Naeema Kishwar Khan, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, and Senior Officers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A participant of the meeting told The Nation that the Afghanistan issue was discussed during the meeting. “The members were unanimous that Pakistan should not take all the burden of the US failures in Afghanistan,” he said.

The Special Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs also briefed the Committee about the Public Sector Development Programme projects and presented a detailed presentation about the capacity building of the Ministry in the light of direction given by the Committee in its last meeting, said an official statement.

After the briefing, the members put various questions regarding the proposed projects under the PSDP for the year 2018-19 and finally endorsed the proposals of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the remarks that all endorsed projects should be completed according to prescribed specifications and standards within time frame in the best public interest, the statement added.