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article imagePakistan urges Taliban leaders to start peace talks

By Thomas WATKINS (AFP)     Aug 25, 2020 in World

Pakistan's foreign minister urged senior Taliban leaders Tuesday to start delayed peace talks with Kabul, telling them the Afghanistan war has "no military solution" just hours after the insurgents claimed another deadly bombing.

Kabul and the Taliban were supposed to have begun talks in March, but are at loggerheads over a controversial prisoner swap that includes hundreds of militant inmates tied to high-profile attacks conducted over the past 19 years.

"Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi underscored Prime Minister Imran Khan's consistent stance that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and that a political settlement was the only way forward," the Pakistan foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Islamabad meeting between Qureshi and the Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the group's co-founder who spent eight years in Pakistani custody, came shortly after a suicide bombing near an army base in the northern Afghan province of Balkh.

The Taliban-claimed assault comes amid continued violence in Afghanistan, with insurgents conducting daily attacks across the country and in Kabul.

It killed two civilians and one commando and wounded more than 40 other people, military spokesman for the region Hanif Rezayee said. Many houses were damaged or destroyed and soldiers were helping get victims to safety, he added.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the attack was revenge for a video circulating online that appeared to show Afghan troops desecrating the bodies of Taliban fighters in the south.

- No hugs -

Pakistan's foreign ministry released images of Qureshi greeting the Taliban without making physical contact. A similar visit last year drew scorn from Afghan officials when Qureshi and the Taliban were shown smiling and embracing.

Tuesday's greeting was without hugs, apparently to maintain social distancing between the two parties, most of whom were wearing masks.

Tensions remain high between Islamabad and Kabul, with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani frequently lashing out at Pakistan for allegedly sheltering, funding and supplying the Taliban.

Pakistan, which was one of only three countries to recognise the Taliban regime in the 1990s, denies the claims.

Islamabad has said that its influence over the Taliban has encouraged the militants to join talks with the US that culminated in February with a deal that would see foreign military forces quit Afghanistan.

Qureshi "emphasised the implementation of the US-Taliban Peace Agreement, in its entirety, paving the way for the earliest possible commencement of Intra-Afghan Negotiations," the foreign ministry stated.

Ghani's spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said Pakistan should do more to bring peace.

"Pakistan has so far failed to deliver on its commitments when it comes to peace and stability in Afghanistan," Sediqqi told AFP.

"We expect the Pakistani government to take practical steps and cooperate with the Afghan government and the international community to help bring stability in the region."

The warring Taliban and Afghan government had signalled they were prepared to launch negotiations immediately after the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, which ended earlier this month, but the process became bogged down over the prisoner swap.

Both sides have fought for nearly two decades in a conflict that has left tens of thousands of people dead.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, when it was ousted by a US-led invasion. Ghani condemned Tuesday's attack on the military base and urged the Taliban to begin talks.

"The Taliban's emphasis on continuation of violence poses challenges to the peace opportunities," Ghani said, according to Sediqqi.

"The Taliban should give up fighting and killing Afghans, accept a ceasefire and start direct talks with the government of Afghanistan."

In a separate incident Tuesday, gunmen shot and wounded Saba Sahar, a well-known Afghan actress and women's rights campaigner.

Police said Sahar's driver and bodyguard were also wounded in the Kabul attack.

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