Pakistan sees itself sincere in stabilising Afghanistan by Nasir Ahmad Waqif & Beensih Javed

ISLAMABAD: “Pakistan is willing to facilitate peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan, but is waiting for Afghanistan and Qatar to clear the way for the talks,” said a senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, who wish not be named. “Afghan and Qatari officials are working on setting up a Taliban office in Qatar and on rules for the talks,” the official added.

Kabul has been urging Islamabad since long to put pressure on the Taliban to force them to come to the negotiating table. Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Muhammad Umar Doudzai said Afghanistan expects serious and timely steps from Pakistan to facilitate the reconciliation process with the Taliban.

“We have no doubt that Pakistan is seriously interested to see a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, but we are still waiting to see results of Pakistan’s efforts.”

Since two years various governments are trying to push the Taliban to agree to peace talks, but no significant results have been achieved so far. However, Pakistani diplomats reject the often heard accusation from Afghan politicians that Islamabad is responsible for the slow pace of peace talks.

The official of Pakistan’s foreign ministry pointed out that Pakistan is not a main party in this process and thus it can only play the role of a facilitator.

Mullah Baradar, a powerful Taliban military chief, was arrested in Karachi.

“The last core group meeting two months ago between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US was significant in this regard,” said the official. The core group decided to provide safe passage to all Taliban who want to negotiate and their names would be removed from the UN sanction list in case they travel to a third country, the official added.

The official confirmed the frequent assertions by the Pakistani government that it does not want a destabilised Afghanistan after foreign troops leave the country at the end of 2014. Therefore, the official said that Pakistan would support all peace talks, whether they are in Qatar or Saudi Arabia, with one condition: “They must be lead by Afghanistan.”

Afghan Political Analyst Ahmad Saeed blames Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for not putting enough pressure on Taliban. Saeed, who is a former Afghan diplomat to Pakistan, said, “Reaching regional peace and stability is only possible when Pakistan’s intelligence agencies put pressure on Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table.”

Pakistan is often blamed for killing militants who are willing to negotiate with the government of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai. A retired general and leading defence analyst, Talat Masood, suspects that there might be some elements in Pakistan’s military establishment and government who oppose the reconciliation process.

But overall, he said there is “a clear consensus among Pakistan’s government and military that Pakistan is interested in a peaceful Afghanistan, which would lead to a prosperous Pakistan”.

Another issue that strains the relationship between the two neighbouring countries is cross-border terrorism. Ambassador Doudzai is getting impatient with Pakistan’s perceived inactivity on the issue. “Pakistan can do much to control cross-border terrorism,” he claimed.

However, Pakistan claims that it is challenging to control cross-border attacks. The militants have sanctuaries on each side of the border, Pakistani officials point out, adding that on both sides they are not being nurtured by the governments, thereby refusing to accept any blame put on them from Kabul.

The official of Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that political stability in Afghanistan is an important factor for security and economic development in Pakistan. If instability in Afghanistan prevails, “it will trickle down to Pakistan and a government in Kabul ruled by Taliban would influence extremist elements in the tribal belt.” The official feared that this could create a huge problem for Pakistan.

A stabilised Afghanistan on the other hand would give Pakistan access to Central Asian markets. Projects such as TAPI gas pipeline to transport Tajik gas through Afghanistan and Pakistan up to India, or CASA 1000, which will urgently fulfil energy needs of Pakistan, are depending on Afghan stability.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, Ayaz Wazir, presents a solution to the current problem. He believes that Afghanistan’s neighbours, Pakistan and Iran, have great influence in Afghanistan, and together with the US, if these three countries compromise a bit on their interests, they can come up with a sincere plan for Afghanistan. This will ultimately lead to a successful reconciliation process with the Taliban, he believes, and reduce the cross border tensions.

Beenish Javed, 28, is a reporter based in Islamabad and works for ARY News. Nasir Ahmad Waqif, 27, is a reporter with Al-Jazeera TV and is based in Kunduz, Afghanistan. This report was written during the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung AF-PAK fellowship 2012 in collaboration with The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2012.

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