Islamabad, Apr 8: Pakistan's top diplomat Sartaj Aziz was left red-faced when the Afghanistan envoy here accused Islamabad of being the main hurdle in achieving peace with the Taliban and blamed the tensions in bilateral ties for the lack of progress in the long-stalled peace process.
Afghan Ambassador Omar Zakhilwal, who shared the dais with Aziz at a panel discussion at the Jinnah Institute here, said it was important to build an environment of trust given the main hurdle to peace in the region was a trust-deficit with Pakistan, embarrassing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Adviser on Foreign Affairs.
"It was important for both sides to talk to each other, and not at each other," he said at the discussion titled 'From Winter to Spring: Revisiting the Afghan Question'.
He said there was a need for genuine and frank dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Without peace in Afghanistan, there could be no peace in Pakistan, Zakhilwal said and added that his mission in Islamabad was to change mindsets and improve perceptions.
The Afghan envoy said Pakistan would always face roadblocks in its attempt to become a gateway to Central Asia, as would Afghanistan in its attempt to be a land-bridge to Central Asia, if peace continued to elude Afghanistan.
Elements supporting violence in Afghanistan continued to use Pakistani territory, he warned. He said Pakistan too has paid a price for the regional conflict. Pakistan loses USD 70-80 billion annually due to instability in Afghanistan, he estimated.
The Afghan envoy said it was important to leverage the people-to-people relationship for greater peace and stability given our common ancestry, faith, language and geography.
In his remarks, Aziz said nobody can dictate terms to the Afghan government or the Afghan Taliban for reconciliation. He said the regional stakeholders should instead focus on facilitating an inclusive reconciliation process.
"No one can dictate terms to either the Afghan government or the Afghan Taliban, nor can arbitrary timelines, deadlines or conditionalities be attached to the reconciliation process," Aziz said.
He said the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) -- including Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US -- would have to collectively decide how to deal with elements refusing to join the peace process.
He said the QCG meeting has not been scheduled thus far. But reports said the group is likely to meet later this month.
The four members have held multiple rounds of talks, which have so far failed to convince the Taliban to take part and talk peace with the Kabul government.
Aziz said an exclusively military approach has not worked in Afghanistan and it was important to keep the reconciliation process on track and prevent attempts by spoilers to derail it.
"Pakistan is committed to the idea that one of the key goals of the Afghan reconciliation process be reduction, and ultimate cessation, of violence," he said.