ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN —
Pakistan and Afghanistan have jointly appealed to Taliban-led insurgent groups to participate in the Afghan political reconciliation process aimed at ending the war. They are asking the militants to sever links with al-Qaida and other international terror networks.
A high-level delegation of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, led by its chairman Salahuddin Rabbani, concluded a three-day visit Wednesday in Islamabad, where it held intensive talks with Pakistani political and military leaders.
The discussions were focused on how to encourage Taliban and other militant groups to stop fighting and join peace negotiations. The talks came as the U.S. and NATO-led international coalition plans to pull most of their troops from Afghanistan by 2014.
Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have reported significant progress in the talks, including release of several Taliban prisoners by Pakistan. The Kabul government has long demanded the release of these men, hoping their rehabilitation to Afghanistan will encourage other militants to end violence and join the peace process.
A senior member of the Afghan delegation, Abdul Hameed Mubarez, praised Pakistan’s decision of releasing Taliban prisoners as a major step forward.
Mubarez said the prisoners are Afghans and his country will gain from their return to Afghanistan, because it also may encourage other militants to join talks and become part of the national political process. He said that if the Taliban wants, it can participate and even field their candidate in the next presidential election set for April 2014.
The High Peace Council’s chairman Rabbani expressed confidence that by working together, Pakistan and Afghanistan can help achieve stability in his country.
“We very much look forward to a very close cooperation between the two countries because peace in Afghanistan is peace in Pakistan, and we are very much confident that we will be able to work cooperatively and closely so that peace and stability comes to Afghanistan,” said Rabbani.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik reaffirmed his country’s support for the Afghan peace efforts.
“We firmly believe that a safe Afghanistan is [a] safe Pakistan. Pakistan will continue to support any peace process and dialogue,” said Malik.
In a joint statement issued at the end of the talks, both countries have called for the Taliban and other armed groups to break ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist networks.
Afghan officials believe that by using its past links with the Taliban and allegations that top leaders of the militant group have taken refuge in Pakistan, the neighboring country can play a key role in bringing insurgents to the negotiating table.
Islamabad denies the presence of Taliban commanders in Pakistan, and says an early end to the Afghan conflict is likely to strengthen its own efforts against local militancy.
There are fears among regional countries, including Pakistan, that Afghanistan could descend into further chaos if foreign forces leave without a political peace process in place well before the 2014 deadline.
Afghanistan’s High Peace Council has failed to establish direct talks between the government of President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban because of the prevailing mistrust on both sides. But observers believe by securing the release of Taliban prisoners during its talks in Islamabad, the Council can hope to win some support among insurgent groups in Afghanistan.