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Breakthrough expected in stalled Afghan talks

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The stalled peace process between Kabul and Afghan Taliban may resume soon owing to behind-the-scene efforts by Pakistan and other stakeholders.

A high-ranking Pakistani official familiar with the ‘back-channel efforts’ told The Express Tribune on Sunday that some progress was expected in the coming days about the revival of peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives.

The official, who requested not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the revival of the fragile peace process would be one of the key agenda items during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s upcoming visit to the US. The US president had last week said he would urge the Pakistani premier to persuade the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. The official said this showed that even the US now had greater realisation that reconciliation was the only way forward in Afghanistan.

“We have kept saying this for a long time that eventually we will have to go back to reconciliation,” he said. Now, he claimed, there would be some ‘breakthrough’ soon. “We are optimistic that detractors will fail and the reconciliation process will resume soon,” the official said. This optimism is quite contrary to the on-ground situation with relations between Islamabad and Kabul strained in recent months by growing mistrust between the two neighbours. Afghan officials have continuously held Pakistan responsible for the current unrest in their country.

However, Pakistani officials believe certain ‘anti-Pakistan elements’ are not only trying to undermine ties between Islamabad and Kabul but are also against the political settlement of the long-running Afghan conflict. “Our position remains consistent that we will not get distracted by such malicious campaign and will continue our endeavours for facilitating the reconciliation process,” the official said.

PM’s pre-departure statement:

Premier Nawaz Sharif will leave for the US on Monday morning.

He will stay overnight at his residence in London, and will depart for Washington on a three-day visit. He will meet President Obama on October 22 and return home on October 25. In his pre-departure statement, the premier said Pak-US bilateral relations are satisfactorily advancing on an upward trajectory. “We want to expand and augment the scope of US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue Framework in a multifaceted manner.”

He said that being a sovereign country having strong democratic dispensation Pakistan has rendered unmatched sacrifices in the war on terror as a front-line state. “Even now, Zarb-e-Azb’s success is a manifestation of Pakistan’s unwavering commitment to rooting out terrorism and extremism from each and every nook and corner of our country”. We are fighting this war to not only ensure peace and prosperity of our country but also to make South Asia, and the region beyond, a hub of peace and development, he added.

The prime minister said Pakistan is a responsible sovereign nuclear state. “Its strategic assets are secured under a foolproof arrangement. Pakistan’s nuclear status is deterrence against any external aggression,” he added. “Pakistan honours the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all the states in terms of bilateral and multilateral relations as equal sovereign partners.”

No nuclear deal: FO

The Foreign Office dismissed speculations about the possibility of Pakistan signing a nuclear deal with the US. In a statement, the FO spokesperson said the speculative comments in the media about the PM’s visit appeared to be an attempt to confuse the readers and generate controversy on issues of national importance. He emphasised that no deal was being discussed between the two countries.

Welcoming Nawaz;

US Congresswoman Shiela Jackson Lee from Houston, Texas, has introduced a resolution in the US House of Representatives to welcome the PM. The resolution, introduced on Friday, calls for expressing solidarity with the people of Pakistan in the struggle against terrorism, strengthening the democratic process, reaffirming the friendship and strategic partnership with Pakistan and backing the ongoing cooperation between the two countries.

ISI chief visits US;

Ahead of the prime minister’s crucial visit, the head of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency travelled to Washington on a four-day trip. Security sources said Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar held talks with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief John Brennan and other defence officials. There has been no official word from either side about the visit.

The ISI director-general was due to return on Sunday. This was his second trip to the US in 8 months. Soon after PM Nawaz’s visit, Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif is also expected to travel to Washington, the sources said. (The Express Tribune)