Afghan leaders begin Pakistan peace summit

Afghan leaders begin Pakistan peace summit

Dozens of Afghan political leaders have attended a peace conference in neighbouring Pakistan, but the Taliban are absent.

Dozens of Afghan political leaders have attended a peace conference in neighbouring Pakistan to pave the way for further intra-Afghan dialogue.

The conference on Saturday is to be followed by meetings and working sessions over the next two days, all of which come in the run-up to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan next week.

Ghani, his political opponents and a broad swath of Afghan civil society have been holding meetings in recent days with the United States’ special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who continues to press for talks between the Afghan government, the opposition and the Taliban.

There are no representatives of the Taliban at Saturday’s conference, held near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

Attending the conference is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who struck a peace deal with Ghani’s government and was taken off a US terrorist list.

That peace deal was touted as a blueprint for an agreement with the Taliban, although the insurgents dismissed Hekmatyar as a spent force.

At the outset of Saturday’s meeting, Hekmatyar urged Afghans to press for the Taliban’s demand for a quick and full withdrawal of US and NATO troops.

Washington has been holding talks with the Taliban – who control or wield significant influence in nearly half of Afghanistan – to find a negotiated exit to its 17-year engagement. On Saturday, Khalilzad was in Doha, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

Among the figures in attendance at Saturday’s conference in Pakistan were the head of the Afghan government-sponsored high peace council, Mohammad Karim Khalili, as well as the leader of the powerful Jamiat-e-Islami political party, Ustad Atta Mohammad Noor, and a current presidential candidate, Haneef Atmar, who is a former national security adviser.

The event was backed by the Pakistani government and organised by two think tanks, the Lahore Centre for Peace Research and the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute.

The Afghan leaders are also scheduled to hold a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan during their visit.

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