ISLAMABAD— Afghan President Hamid Karzai is set to pay an official visit to neighboring Pakistan next week, perhaps as early as Monday, where he will seek help of the newly-elected leadership to arrange talks between his peace negotiators and Taliban representatives. Kabul’s top diplomat in Islamabad says he expects the upcoming talks between the two countries will yield “positive results.”
Afghan leaders have long alleged that neighboring Pakistan is sheltering top Taliban commanders and the country’s spy agency, the ISI, has been helping them plan cross-border attacks on local and U.S.-led coalition forces.
President Karzai wants Pakistani authorities to eliminate the militant sanctuaries in their country to prevent attacks in Afghanistan. He also has been demanding Islamabad use its influence with the Taliban and bring them to the table for talks with members of an Afghan High Peace Council, to try to promote political reconciliation.
While bilateral economic, trade, education, cultural and sports relations have strengthened in recent years, Afghan officials insist that without improving cooperation on issues related to peace and security, progress in other areas will remain fragile.
“There is one particular area where we are yet to make progress. That is in the security area. In the whole security department we still have problems," said Mohammad Umer Daudzai, Kabul’s ambassador in Islamabad. "There are allegations from Afghanistan or rather complaints from Afghanistan and Afghanistan obviously has proofs to put those allegations forward that the Taliban and the extremists responsible for criminal actions against the people of Afghanistan have their sanctuaries in Pakistan have their leaderships sheltered in Pakistan.”
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry says that President Karzai’s visit is a symbol of how the leadership of both countries want to further improve relations.
“The emphasis will be on [Afghan] peace and reconciliation process in which Pakistan has already offered that we would like to extend all possible support and assistance in advancing that peace process,” he said.
Ambassador Daudzai, however, said they have been hearing similar positive Pakistani statements for more than a year but that has not led to actual cooperation on the peace initiative.
Hope for change
The Afghan ambassador said he hopes to see a change in that policy under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government and his country is expecting President Karzai talks with Pakistani interlocutors to “yield good results.”
“Yes, we do hope because there is a new government in Pakistan, it is a government that has a stronger mandate and it is a government that even before coming to power they were preaching that they will do something about peace and stability in Afghanistan. And now that government is in place and they still talk of the same issues in the same manner. It is a test when the President comes and meets his counterpart to see if that gap between statements and action could be closed,” he said.
Afghan Taliban detainees
Officials in Kabul say that in his talks with Pakistani leaders, President Karzai will also repeat his demand that Islamabad release all Afghan prisoners from its jails, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a former deputy commander of the Taliban.
The insurgent leader was believed to be independently attempting to engage in peace talks with Afghan authorities, but his actions apparently upset Pakistani officials and he was detained while traveling through Pakistan in 2010.
Ambassador Daudzai also insists that it is unclear whether the release of 26 Afghan Taliban detainees from Pakistani jails late last year has really benefited the peace efforts. He said Pakistani officials did not share enough information with Afghan authorities before and after releasing these men, and their whereabouts remain unknown.
The Afghan diplomat said Pakistan has now assured his country it will share information when remaining prisoners are released.
Pakistan said it helped more than two dozen Taliban representatives travel to Qatar to open a political office in June as part of a U.S. peace plan to give the insurgency an address where they can engaged in talks.
But the fanfare surrounding the opening ceremony and a proposed direct meeting between the Taliban and American officials both upset President Karzai and provoked him to boycott the peace process.
Afghan authorities are now demanding Pakistan use the same influence to facilitate a direct meeting between Taliban representatives and members of the Afghan Peace Council, saying the venue of the talks is immaterial for them.