Pakistan urges Taliban, US to refrain from ‘active hostility’ amid peace talks

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The US delegation led my Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad , US Special Representative on the Afghan Reconciliation, met with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad during his visit in October 2018. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Foreign Office)
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In this file photo, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) speaks with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (3rd L) during a meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Reuters)
Updated 21 April 2019

Pakistan urges Taliban, US to refrain from ‘active hostility’ amid peace talks

  • Foreign office says intra-Afghan dialogue holds key to Afghan peace process
  • Clarifies Pakistan did not participate in recent rounds of talks in Abu Dhabi and Doha

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office has said Pakistan has been playing the role of a facilitator in peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and US officials and urged them both to refrain from hostile engagements.

On Friday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, expressed disappointment after the collapse of a planned meeting between the Taliban and a group of Afghan politicians in Qatar that exposed the deep divisions blocking efforts to end the 17-year-long war.

The Doha meeting was intended to prepare the ground for possible future talks by building familiarity among Taliban officials and representatives of the Afghan state created after the U.S.-led campaign that toppled the Taliban government in 2001. A similar encounter was held in Moscow in February.

Up until now the Taliban have refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government which it considers to be a foreign-appointed puppet regime.

“Pakistan is doing everything in its capacity to facilitate the peace process, and would keep urging both sides to restrain from active hostility,” foreign office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal said at a weekly press briefing on Thursday.

In response to a question by Arab News about the latest round of talks, referred to as the Doha Process, Faisal said: “Let me clarify that there is no such thing as the Doha Process. The last two rounds of talks between the US and Taliban were held in Doha but the earlier round was held in Abu Dhabi. Pakistan has not attended talks in Doha.”

“We facilitated the talks between the US and Taliban in Abu Dhabi and Doha,” Faisal added. “Pakistan will continue to play its role in this regard as a shared responsibility.”

A 250-strong delegation of Afghan politicians and civil society figures had been due to meet Taliban officials in Doha on the weekend. But the event was abruptly canceled amid arguments over the size and status of the group, which included some government officials attending in a personal capacity.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office has blamed Qatari authorities for the cancellation of the talks, saying they had authorized a list of participants that differed from the one proposed by Kabul, “which meant disrespect for the national will of the Afghans”.

The Taliban derided the agreed list of 250 participants as a “wedding party”. Some senior opposition figures who had been included refused to attend. The Taliban also objected to Ghani’s comments to a meeting of delegates that they would be representing the Afghan nation and the Afghan government, a statement that went against the insurgents’ refusal to deal with the Kabul administration.

The Taliban said holding a dialogue with the “powerless and crumbling Kabul administration is a waste of time” as their aim was to focus on the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government promises action against polio vaccination spoilers

Updated 13 min 5 sec ago

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government promises action against polio vaccination spoilers

  • Traders in Bannu, one of province’s worst-hit districts, had earlier refused to administer drops to protest new taxes, call off boycott
  • Provincial Information Minister says government will ensure polio teams reach every child no matter the obstacles

PESHAWAR: The government of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province warned on Tuesday it would take strict action against anyone misusing the anti-polio drive just days after traders in Bannu, a district worst hit by the virus, refused to allow the administering of polio drops to protest new taxes.
Pakistan’s polio eradication campaign has hit serious snags in recent months, with an alarming spike in reported cases that has raised doubts over the quality of vaccination reporting and prompted officials to review their approach to stopping the crippling disease.
The country is one of only three in the world where polio is endemic, along with neighboring Afghanistan and Nigeria, but vaccination campaigns have cut the disease sharply, with only a dozen cases last year compared with 306 in 2014 and more than 350,000 in 1988, according to Pakistani health officials.
However, there has been a worrying jump this year, with 53 new cases recorded, 32 of them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Senseless people who are misusing the anti-polio drive for their personal interests, the government will take action against them and we will not spare them,” Provincial Information Minister Shaukat Yousafzai told Arab News. “Polio is no less a threat than terrorism. We will make our province and our country polio-free the way we won the war against terrorism.”
“Despite being a nuclear power, do you want Pakistan to stand with Nigeria and Afghanistan [as countries where polio persists]?” Yousafzai asked. “Never ever. We will ensure polio teams reach every child.”
A new round of vaccinations is scheduled to be launched from August 26 to September 1 in 24 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including Bannu, said Kamran Afridi, the coordinator of the Emergency Operation Center for polio eradication. Around 30 polio cases out of 32 reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa this year have emerged in Bannu.
Afridi said following the recent announcement of protests by traders in Bannu traders, all District Coordination Officers had been directed to engage the community and launch awareness campaigns. 
On August 18, traders in Bannu, a district to the volatile North Waziristan tribal district, threatened to boycott anti-polio drives to build pressure on the government to reverse “heavy taxes’” levied on small businesses. Although the boycott has since been called off, it highlights the complexity of Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign. 
“We have called off our polio boycott but we had to announce the boycott just to get the government’s attention to reverse unprecedented increase in taxes,” Shah Wazir, president of the Bannu Chamber of Commerce, said.