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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Pakistan gives green light to Saudi inclusion in Afghan peace talks

Riyadh will bring positive results in bid to end conflict, diplomat says

Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad speaks to the media after a meeting of the UN Security Council. Reuters
Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad speaks to the media after a meeting of the UN Security Council. Reuters

Pakistan and the United States are encouraging Saudi Arabia to join efforts to resolve the 17-year Afghan conflict through a negotiated peace and reconciliation process, according to officials.

During the recent visit of US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad to Islamabad, Pakistani and American officials discussed possible peace talks with the Afghan Taliban and the inclusion of Riyadh to help the process.

“Saudi Arabia, has played a key role in the past in engagements with Taliban, and their involvement will yield positive results in resolving Afghan conflict,” a senior Pakistani diplomat told The National on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

The Taliban said it would welcome Saudi Arabia’s involvement as it only opposes the American presence in the country.

“We have no issues of engagement of Saudi Arabia in the peace process, we are only concerned about the American occupation in Afghanistan,” Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid told The National in a WhatsApp message.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Mr Khalilzad in Riyadh on Wednesday to further discuss “efforts exerted in the Afghan arena” as Riyadh's role in any resolution to the conflict appears to grow.

Saudi Arabia marked the second stop for Mr Khalilzad after he met Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua in Islamabad on Tuesday.

As the top US adviser on Afghanistan, he highlighted the US administration’s efforts to persuade Taliban leaders to participate in the Afghan peace process.

Abdallah Al Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations, shared a statement in April this year that stated Riyadh’s role as a potential conflict arbiter on the global stage. He referred to Afghanistan as a major country where Riyadh could help resolve the conflict through mediation.

He also urged the UN to engage more effectively with Saudi Arabia’s conflict resolution to achieve peace in the war-torn country.

In March, Riyadh showed its desire to play its role in starting a peace process to help Washington in peace talks with the Taliban, while Washington and Kabul are hoping that Riyadh can bring the Taliban to the table.

In June, Saudi Arabia supported the ceasefire between the forces of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban to mark the Eid holiday.

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Regarding the Eid ceasefire, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman issued a statement saying “that the brotherly Afghan people, who suffered a great deal from the war, aspire, along with the rest of the Muslim world, to close the previous chapter and open a new page based on tolerance, reconciliation, rejecting violence .. .and mending fences between brothers”.

“Currently there is no sign of pleasant relations between Taliban and Riyadh as there were before. The Islamic Scholars Conference in Saudi Arabia was denounced by the Taliban,” Rahim Ullah Yousafzai, an expert on the Taliban, told The National.

“The appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as special representative from Washington showed that the US is serious about the peace talks and resolving the conflict. It will help get a breakthrough in the negotiations,” Mr Yousafzai said.

The Afghan Taliban is currently engaged in the fight against the government in Kabul and has threatened to wage attacks on the upcoming elections on October 20.

A suicide bomber on Tuesday killed eight people at an election rally in the southern city of Lashkar Gah. The UN says more than 8,000 civilians have been killed this year because of fighting and militant attacks in the country.

“As there can be no military solution to the fighting in Afghanistan, the United Nations renews its call for an immediate and peaceful settlement to the conflict,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the top UN official in Afghanistan.