Afghan peace process undermined

WEB DESK: Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz Thursday said that the killing of Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a US drone strike has undermined the Afghan peace process and bilateral consultations are being made with US, China and Afghanistan to assess the situation.

Officially confirming the death of Mullah Mansour after five days, Aziz told media briefing that his death in a drone strike on 21st May, which probably originated from Afghanistan, has added to the complexity of the Afghan conflict.

“All indicators confirm that the person killed in the drone strike was Mullah Akhter Mansour who was travelling on a fake identity. The DNA test result will be available shortly, after which Mansour’s body would be handed over to his relatives.”

As already stated, he said the drone action was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty as well as breach of the principles of the United Nations Charter governing the conduct of the states. “We have conveyed our serious concern to the United States on this issue…We believe that this action has undermined the Afghan peace process,” he added.

Referring to fifth Quadrilateral Co-ordination Group (QCG) meeting on May 18, he said that the member states including Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and China had agreed that a politically negotiated settlement was the most viable option and that efforts should continue to bring Taliban to the table.

“This understanding has not been respected,” he added. He said the QCG had formulated a framework and a roadmap, adding the roadmap was very clear that the first option was reconciliation through talks and other options would come only after that option was exhausted.

The QCG decision was very clear and there was no indication of a military option, he said, adding it is because of this that we feel that this drone attack will be a negative factor as far as continuation of peace talks is concerned.

After a few days, when an opportunity arises, the QCG countries will reassess the situation and take the process forward, he said. In the meantime, we are holding bilateral consultations with US, China and Afghanistan to assess the situation, he added.

Aziz also referred to Pakistan’s earlier efforts in July 2015 when the news of Mullah Omar was made public, saying talks were scuttled at a key stage when the issue of a reduction in violence was to be discussed. In less than a year, peace process has been scuttled twice, he said.

“In our view there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The use of force for past 15 years has failed to deliver peace. We believe this approach will further destabilise Afghanistan, which will have negative implications for the region, especially due to the presence of large number of terrorist groups in Afghanistan,” he added.

He insisted that Pakistan believes that politically negotiated settlement remains the most viable option for bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan, adding the military approach has been tried for 15 years and could not achieve the objective.

He said Pakistan also believes that effective border management is vital for checking the infiltrations across long and porous Pakistan-Afghanistan border, adding the Afghan government’s cooperation in this regard is an imperative for mutual security.

He further said that other members of the QCG also agree on the need for effective border management. He stated that the presence of a large number of Afghan refugees has become a big security risk as terrorists and militants use camps as hideouts for their nefarious activities.

“Effective measures should be taken on an urgent basis by the international community for the repatriation of Afghan refugees,” he added. Aziz further said that Pakistan’s desire for a lasting peace in Afghanistan is motivated by its conviction that peace in Afghanistan is essential not only for the people of that country but also for the entire region.

He said Pakistan will continue to pursue the objective in close consultation with the Afghanistan government and other members of the QCG. About the drones strikes so far, he said there have been 390 drone attacks till now and the frequency was very high from 2010 to 2012 with 60-70 attacks every year.

He said when the incumbent government assumed power in 2013, it protested against the attacks very firmly with the United States and the US officially suspended drone attacks for three months in 2013 to give space to negotiations with the Taliban.

“We are very concerned about this drone attack because this is the second time that an attack had taken place inside Pakistan outside the tribal areas”, he said, adding earlier most of the attacks took place in the tribal areas. We have strongly protested to the United States that such attacks would affect our bilateral relations.

Moreover, they were against the UN Charter, he added. As far as the US is concerned, as stated officially, he said it was their assessment that Mullah Mansour was opposed to peace talks and should be eliminated. “Like their policy on Iraq, this might not prove beneficial in the longer term.

We will convey to them that drone attacks are not beneficial for the peace process in the long run and such interruptions to the peace process are not advisable and detrimental in the long term,” he added.

To a question about the new Taliban chief reported announcement not to participate in talks, he said that it was too early to draw any conclusion on the basis of two contradictory reports.

He said the QCG members have to continue their efforts with the groups they are in touch with and then come back to the QCG table to make a collective decision how to take the process forward, adding Pakistan believes that there is no other alternate to peace talks and wants this process to continue.

Regarding Mullah Mansour’s presence in Iran, Aziz said he was there under the false identity of Wali Mohammad. “We cannot speculate regarding his presence in Iran except that he crossed over into Pakistan from there under a false identity. We should not attach any deeper meaning to this,” he added.

To another question regarding the recent agreement between Iran, India and Afghanistan to develop Chabahar port, Aziz said that there is a proposal to make Gwadar and Chabahar sister ports and a road is also being built between them. “So there is no conflict. In fact, Pakistan is expanding its own connectivity with Iran and trying for more border trade,” he said, adding we are also improving our transit trade with Afghanistan through Chaman and other crossing points.

“These routes are all complementary to each other and economics will decide which route is used more frequently and by whom…there is nothing to worry about and regional cooperation overall is a desired idea,” he said, adding Pakistan can use the Chabahar port for trade.

Therefore, we are building roads to connect Chabahar and Gwadar. About Pakistan’s losses due to ongoing terrorism, he said the country has suffered 60,000 casualties in this war including 10,000 security personnel.

According to the last economic survey, the economic losses so far have been $110 billion, he said, adding the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) is no aid; it is the reimbursement of the amount that we spend in this effort.

“We do not want assistance in lieu of our efforts but want bilateral cooperation overall for the mutual benefit of both the countries. We also want US assistance for peace in the region and that is why they are part of the QCG,” he added. –Business Recorder