Afghanistan's foreign minister has pressed Pakistan to free more Taliban detainees to help coax the insurgent group into peace talks aimed at ending the fighting in Afghanistan.
With most of the international forces set to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the war-torn country has stepped up efforts to seek neighboring Pakistan’s help in promoting political reconciliation with the Taliban-led insurgency.
After what is being described as a highly successful trip by a delegation from the Afghan High Peace Council to Islamabad earlier this month, visiting Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul held “in-depth” talks with Pakistani leaders on Friday to further the process.
Talks between members of the High Peace Council and Pakistani leaders had led to the release of a number of Afghan Taliban officials from Pakistani prisons at the request of Afghanistan.
Speaking to reporters alongside his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar, the Afghan foreign minister said Friday he hoped Islamabad will soon set free remaining Taliban prisoners.
“This is a time for continued action…in pushing the peace process forward, so that all those who can help advance the peace process go free and so ultimately the Afghan government and the Taliban can engage in a sustained process of negotiation," said Rassoul. "We want all Afghan Taliban to return in their country (and) join the constitutional political process there, and play their part in furthering the construction and development of our nation.”
It is widely perceived that Pakistan is supporting some insurgent groups in Afghanistan while top Taliban leaders also have taken refuge in the country. It is also alleged that Islamabad is using delaying tactics to try to influence the Afghan political reconciliation in its favor.
Pakistan rejects those allegations and perceptions as misplaced, saying it has lost thousands of civilians and security forces in the decade-long fight against terrorism. Homegrown Taliban militants have carried out frequent suicide and other terrorist attacks across the country.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khar reiterated that her country has suffered more human and economic losses than any other country in the war against terrorism.
“We don’t need anyone to tell us how seriously we take the threat of terrorism. We lose our children to terrorism every day. We understand the threat of terrorism," said Khar. "We offer the world the opportunity to come together and to fight it as a common threat rather than looking at which shoulder to put the blame on.”
The Afghan and Pakistani foreign ministers told reporters that to further the Afghan political reconciliation process, the two countries have agreed to hold a joint meeting of Islamic scholars in Kabul in January. Officials say that scholars from other Muslim countries may also be invited to the proposed Ulema (Islamic scholars) conference.
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani later told VOA the goal of the Ulema conference is to generate religious support for the anti-militancy campaign on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.
“The purpose of the Ulema conference is that the Ulema of Pakistan and Afghanistan and other Islamic countries should sit together," said Jilani. "They discuss important issues confronting the Islamic Ummah [world], particularly extremism and also suicide attacks, and they should come out with a [joint] statement against the suicide attacks.”
Afghan officials say that the Taliban and other groups cite the presence of foreign troops in the country as the reason for the insurgency. They hope that once international forces pull out of the country, the Islamic scholars can help persuade Afghan insurgents to end their campaign of violence.