Pakistan to participate in 12-country Moscow conference on Afghanistan, Taliban ‘await invitation’

MAMOSA Report — Pakistan will take part in an international conference in Moscow next month to discuss peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, according to the Foreign Ministry Friday.

Spokesman Nafees Zakaria confirmed Pakistan’s participation during a weekly briefing in the capital Islamabad on Friday, adding: “The decision on the level of Pakistan’s participation will be taken in due course”.

The conference — the third of its kind in the last five months — will be held on April 14 and will see participation from 12 countries, including the U.S., China and four Central Asian states.

About whether the Afghan Taliban will attend the conference, Zakaria said: “You may confirm from Russians regarding Afghan Taliban’s participation in this meeting”.

He said Pakistan wanted all sides to come to the negotiating table.

“Pakistan firmly believes in an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process, aimed at bringing all warring factions, including the Taliban, to the negotiating table.’

Zabihullah Mujahid, the insurgency’s main spokesman, told VOA Friday, “When an invitation is extended to us, only then we can consider it and comment on it.”

He did not outright deny reports his group may attend a Moscow meeting, if invited, VOA reported.

Commenting on media reports suggesting Pakistan recently hosted seven Afghan Taliban leaders in a bid to woo them to attend the forthcoming Moscow conference, Zakaria said: “We do not comment on media reports.”

The Taliban has disputed media reports that its representatives recently visited Pakistan and discussed with officials the prospect of holding direct peace talks with Kabul, according to VOA.

A senior Pakistani government official and an intelligence official told VOA they were unaware of any such “visit or talks.” Both officials requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on such matters.

“Pakistan is trying to distance itself from hosting Afghan peace talks and would instead prefer they are held in a country acceptable to all the parties,” the intelligence official maintained.

Pakistan brokered the landmark first round of direct talks between the fragile Afghan government and the Taliban in Islamabad in July 2015; however, the process broke down after the militant group announced the death of their long-term chief Mullah Omer, triggering a bitter power struggle within the militia.

The chance for a resumption of the stalled process dimmed further following the death of Omer’s successor, Mullah Mansur in a U.S. drone strike last year on the Pakistani side near the Afghan border.

Since then, several attempts to resume the stalled peace process have been made by a four-nation group comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan, the U.S. and China. Until now, however, these attempts have failed to bear fruit.

Taliban have opened new battle fronts across the war-torn nation in recent months as Afghan security forces — suffering casualties and desertions — struggle to beat back a revitalized insurgency.

Recent Taliban successes included the capture of the strategic Sangeen city of the opium-rich Helmand province.

Although U.S.-led coalition forces abandoned their combat mission in Afghanistan in December 2015, they still maintain considerable airpower in the country — along with 13,000 ground troops — to support the government’s counter-insurgency efforts.

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