ISLAMABAD— Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad to urge him to help further a troubled political reconciliation process in Afghanistan by providing “opportunities or a platform” for talks between his peace negotiators and the Taliban. The talks apparently did not lead to any significant breakthroughs.
The two men held wide-ranging discussions on how to deepen bilateral relations in areas such as trade, economy, energy and communications.
They also oversaw the signing of a comprehensive agreement by their finance ministers to speed up bilateral economic and development projects.
Karzai later told reporters together with Sharif that he also emphasized the need for enhancing joint efforts to counter extremism and promote peace and stability on both sides of their shared border.
“We discussed this in regard primarily and with emphasis the issue of joint fight against extremism," he explained, "and reconciliation and peace building in Afghanistan with the expectation that the government of Pakistan will facilitate and help in manners it can to the peace process in Afghanistan and in providing opportunities or a platform for talks between the Afghan High Peace Council and the Taliban movement."
Sharif for his part highlighted the importance of the timing of Karzai’s visit to Pakistan, citing next April’s presidential election in Afghanistan and the planned withdrawal of NATO forces from the country by the end of next year.
He reaffirmed Pakistan's "strong and sincere support for the Afghan peace and reconciliation process." These efforts, Sharif reiterated, will have to be led by Afghans.
“I assured President Karzai that Pakistan will continue to extend all possible facilitation to the international community’s efforts for the realization of this noble goal,” Sharif sfaid. "Pakistan would also help reinforce regional efforts in support of stabilization of Afghanistan. We believe this is imperative for turning the tide of conflict and instability that has engulfed our region for decades. It is also indispensable for the realization of our positive agenda of peace and development.”
Karzai’s administration alleges leaders of the Taliban insurgency have long sheltered in Pakistan with the help of that country’s military spy agency. Pakistan denies charges any of its state institutions control the Afghan insurgents.
But Afghan leaders believe the Pakistani military can help bring Taliban officials to the table for peace talks with members of the Afghan High Peace Council. The council is tasked to promote political reconciliation and its chief accompanied Karzai's delegation.
Ahead of Monday’s talks, the Pakistani prime minister chaired a meeting of his top political and military officials to explore what Pakistan can offer to Kabul.
A source privy to the meeting says the Pakistani leader was told that involving Islamabad in the efforts to engage Taliban insurgents in peace talks runs counter to the Afghan leader’s and Pakistan’s own stated positions that the process must be Afghan-based and Afghan-owned.
Kabul’s efforts to deepen security-related and other ties with New Delhi are also a cause of concern for Islamabad. President Karzai on Monday tried to allay those concerns.
“Afghanistan’s relations with the countries of the world and in this region will only be beneficial to the expansion of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and that Pakistan as a friend and as a neighbor can expect good from Afghanistan just as Afghanistan expects from Pakistan good toward Afghanistan,” Karzai said.
Both Pakistan and India are focused on Afghanistan’s future as international combat troops prepare to leave the country in 2014. Both countries say they seek a stable Afghanistan that is at peace with its neighbors. But New Delhi and Islamabad’s deep mistrust have kept the rivals from collaborating on Afghanistan.