Afghanistan Conference Opens, Hopes for Peace Talks Slim
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A conference aimed at shoring up support for war-ravaged Afghanistan opened in the Pakistani capital Tuesday, with a top Afghan official calling for an urgent, united response to the menace of militancy threatening the world.
The "Heart of Asia" meeting, an annual gathering of Asian and other countries, comes months after the first, inconclusive talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
"The wave of terrorist activities, including those of Daesh in various parts of the region and the world, once again reminds us of the gravity of this menace confronting today's humanity and the urgency for a united position against this evil phenomenon," Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hikmat Khalil Karzai told the conference, Reuters reported.
Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The two-day meeting is expected to focus on energy, infrastructure and investment deals to shore up commitment to Afghanistan but the threat of an intensifying Taliban insurgency will hang over proceedings with hopes dim for a resumption of peace talks soon.
The Afghan Taliban and the government held inaugural talks in Pakistan in July, but the effort to end the 14-year insurgency stalled when after news leaked that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had been dead for two years.
News of Omar's death triggered a violent split in the Taliban, further undermining hopes for the negotiations.
Last week, the new leader of the main Afghan Taliban faction, Omar's deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was reported killed or wounded by rivals.
A weekend audio message claiming to be from Mansour refuted the reports, but some Taliban have questioned its authenticity.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will attend the second day of the conference Wednesday.
Hope for better ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan after Ghani was inaugurated were quickly dashed, largely because of a series of bomb attacks in Kabul in August.
Many Afghans, including Ghani's political opponents, accuse Pakistan of backing the Taliban, restricting Ghani's efforts to improve relations with Pakistan after years of acrimony.
Pakistan denies supporting militants fighting the Afghan government and says it wants a peaceful neighbor over its western border.
On Monday, Ghani said Afghanistan and Pakistan had been fighting a 14-year-long "undeclared war".
Each nation accuses the other of supporting militants across their border as proxy forces.
On a more positive note, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj will attend the Islamabad gathering.
The first visit by India's top diplomat to Pakistan in three years raises hopes that relations between the nuclear-armed rivals might improve.
Their national security advisers met on the weekend in Bangkok, three months after cancelling talks.
The two countries have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
Their rivalry has spilled into Afghanistan, where Pakistan is deeply suspicious of increasing Indian influence.
India and many Afghans say Pakistan supports the Afghan insurgency to maintain influence there.