By Ayesha Tanzeem
VOA News | June 9, 2020
ISLAMABAD – In a continuation of a U.S.-led push to encourage intra-Afghan negotiations, Pakistan’s army chief took a one-day trip to Kabul Tuesday.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa met in the Afghan capital with both President Ashraf Ghani and the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, the man who would lead future negotiations with the Taliban.
Ghani’s office issued a statement saying, “Both sides discussed the peace process and Pakistan’s support of the process. They also discussed that the soil of the two countries would not be used against each other.”
Pakistan and Afghanistan have long accused each other of providing havens to militants who attack their interests.
Officials also said a summary of the discussions would be included in a joint statement by the foreign ministers of the two countries.
The trip comes two days after the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, met Bajwa in Islamabad.
A press release issued by the U.S. Embassy after the meeting said Khalilzad and Bajwa “discussed steps required for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.”
Intra-Afghan negotiations is a term used to describe talks between the Taliban and a representative group of other Afghans, including the Afghan government, other political factions, civil society, and rights activists.
The negotiations are supposed to be part of a deal the Taliban signed with the United States in February to try to bring peace to Afghanistan.
They were originally scheduled to start on the 10th of March but were repeatedly delayed, primarily due to the Afghan government’s refusal to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners as stipulated in the deal.
The government, which was not officially a party to the deal between the U.S. and the Taliban, was angered by the provision to release thousands of prisoners, especially as a prerequisite to starting intra-Afghan discussions.
The government felt that the release should be subject to an announcement of a nationwide cease-fire from the Taliban.
A three-day cease-fire announced by the Taliban during Eid al Fitr celebrations marking the end of (the holy month of) Ramadan, and a reduction in violence since, are widely believed to be part of efforts to bring the two sides closer.
President Ghani announced the release of 2,000 prisoners in response to the Eid cease-fire, in addition to the 1,500 Taliban prisoners he had already ordered released. The government has released around 3,000 Taliban prisoners, according to Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council.
On Monday, in an online forum hosted by the Heart of Asia society, an Afghan research group, Abdullah announced that intra-Afghan negotiations were likely to start soon in Doha, Qatar.
“Dr. Abdullah decided to publicly announce for the first time the fact that the Afghan government and the Taliban have reached an understanding on the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations,” said Janan Mosazai, the vice president of the society.
The Taliban have so far refused to start the negotiations unless all 5,000 of their prisoners are released. Mosazai, however, said international and regional pressure had seemingly led the two sides to view the prisoner release issue as a “work in progress.”
“The two sides will start negotiations and not just hold back,” he said.
In an interview with VOA’s Urdu service Monday, the Taliban categorically rejected the possibility of negotiations until their demands were met.
“Intra-Afghan negotiations will start after the completion of 5,000 prisoners,” Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanekzai, the chief negotiator of the Taliban political team in Doha said, adding, “No date and place are decided for Intra-Afghan talks as yet.”