KABUL: Afghanistan will press Pakistan for access to Taliban leaders during a one-day visit to Kabul by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, with Afghan officials hoping to ease cross-border strains and lay the ground for peace negotiations with the insurgents.
Khar will visit Kabul on February 1 to discuss reconciliation and the nascent plans for peace talks ahead of a meeting between representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban in Saudi Arabia.
Khar’s trip will mark the first high-level meetings between officials from the countries in months.
Pakistan is seen as critical to US efforts to stabilize Afghanistan before foreign combat troops leave in 2014. “We hope it will mark a new phase in the relationship between both countries,” Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said on Monday.
Senior Afghan security sources told Reuters that Afghan officials would use Khar’s visit to press for access to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban captured in Karachi in 2010, as well as other members of the Quetta Shura.
Afghan officials want direct access to senior Taliban members and advisers because they are the main decision makers for the insurgency and will be crucial to winning support for the fledgling peace process.
Baradar had been ranked second to Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar.
“When the Pakistan delegation visits here, we will be asking for direct access to the Quetta Shura, or access to Mullah Baradar, who has been in Pakistan custody, as a gesture of good faith,” said a senior Afghan security source. “We want sincere cooperation from Pakistan in regards to peace talks,” said the source, who declined to be identified.
The Taliban announced this month they would open a political office in the Qatari capital Doha to support possible peace talks with the United States and key allies, seen by supporters as the best chance of reaching a ceasefire ahead of the foreign troop withdrawal over the next three years.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai fears being sidelined by US-led efforts to forge peace with the Taliban, so he may be pushing for alternative talks in Saudi Arabia.
“The government has been paranoid since the secret talks opened between the U.S. and the Taliban, and we believe Pakistan feels the same,” the Afghan security source said.
As a confidence-building measure, the militia has called for the release of five members being held at Guantanamo Bay detention centre. A spokesman for the US Embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the likelihood of separate Afghan-Taliban negotiations, but said senior US envoys had consistently called for Pakistan to be part of efforts to end a war stretching into its 11th year.
“We support an Afghan process that includes Afghans talking to Afghans,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2012.