This Monday, senior diplomats from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States met in Islamabad to lay the groundwork for a new round of peace talks with the Taliban. There has been a sense of urgency with regards to pushing for another round of talks as the Taliban have seized large sections of Afghan territory in the past few months. Therefore, the presence of both American and Chinese officials at the meeting was seen as a signal of importance of the negotiations.
Earlier news reports had suggested that the Taliban representatives and Afghan officials could meet sometime during the first-half of January, however, the meeting on Monday seemed as much about trying to smooth over months of tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan as about any real prospect of a change of heart by the Taliban. After the meeting, the officials released a statement saying that another planning session would take place in Kabul, the Afghan capital, next Monday. During the opening remarks, Sartaj Aziz, the senior foreign policy aide to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, said that Pakistan was committed to furthering the Afghan reconciliation process. More importantly, he addressed the Afghan government’s demands to take military action against the irreconcilable elements with the Taliban by stating that the use of force against such elements cannot precede the offer of talks to all the groups. He rightly pointed out that it would be counterproductive to set any preconditions before the talks commence.