ISLAMABAD — Pakistan says recent “informal” talks between Afghan peace negotiators and leaders of a Taliban faction are “a good start” towards seeking a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. The hope is other warring groups will join the process.
Pakistan’s foreign policy and national security advisor Sartaj Aziz says his country has long favored an “inclusive intra-Afghan” dialogue for ending the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan. He says in an interview with VOA that Islamabad has supported such efforts in the past and remains committed to promoting political reconciliation in its war-shattered neighbor.
“We have been suggesting to the Taliban through our contacts that please negotiate some reconciliation. So, these are informal contacts [and] even if they are with a few groups it is a good start. I hope it will become more serious and other groups will join it," said Aziz.
This is the first time Pakistan has directly commented on last week's meeting in Dubai between members of Afghanistan’s peace-seeking panel called the High Peace Council and a group of Taliban leaders. The insurgent delegation was led by Mutasim Agha Jan, a former finance minister during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Few details of the discussions have been released to the media.
Aziz reiterated that his country no longer supports any faction in Afghanistan and wants all Afghan stakeholders to be left alone to determine a solution to the crisis facing them after the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force or ISAF winds down its combat mission in December.
“Because nobody in the world, none of the Islamic countries [including] Pakistan, wants Afghanistan to get into a chaos and in large-scale fighting after the ISAF forces leave," he said.
The Dubai meeting was part of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to resume peace talks with the Taliban ahead of the April 5 presidential elections in Afghanistan.
But the Taliban leadership says it has not authorized anyone to engage in peace talks with the Kabul government. The Taliban insisted any peace talks will be conducted through its political office in Qatar and only after all U.S.-led forces leave Afghanistan.
The Islamist movement opened its Qatar office last June under a U.S.-sponsored effort with Pakistan to help the insurgents engage in a peace process with representatives of President Karzai.
But that process immediately collapsed after the Afghan leader raised objections to any direct contacts between the U.S. and the Taliban without his supervision. Karzai also strongly opposed the Taliban for using the name and flag of their former Afghan government for the Qatar office.
Officials and observers in Pakistan are worried that continued Afghan instability after the departure of NATO-led forces from the country could embolden Islamist militants waging a bloody insurgency against the Pakistani state. Riaz Mohammad Khan is a former Pakistani foreign secretary.
“Pakistan is going to face escalating cost in my view for formal or informal support from its territory to the Afghan Taliban or to any other groups that may consider its favorite such as the Haqqanis. Safe havens for insurgent groups are not and will not be confined to one side of the Durand Line [the name of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border]," said Khan.
Pakistan’s military spy agency assisted the Taliban rise to power in Afghanistan in the 1990s. Most observers do not foresee the Islamist movement regaining control in the presence of a sizable trained Afghan national army and the development an international presence has brought to the country over the past decade.
Islamabad denies charges that top Taliban leaders and militants of the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network are hiding in Pakistan from where they direct insurgent activities in Afghanistan.