Beginning what could be a decisive initiative for the Afghan endgame, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States started formal negotiations on Wednesday to establish a mechanism to provide safe passage to leaders of the Afghan Taliban willing to enter the peace process.
The inaugural meeting of the newly-established working group was attended by senior officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. The three countries agreed to form the working group back in April as part of efforts to kick start the Afghan reconciliation process, which has been plagued by mistrust between the three governments and the Taliban.
A senior foreign ministry official told The Express Tribune that Wednesday’s meeting was ‘introductory’ in nature, adding that the three sides had decided to continue talks on the issue. The official said the group would help arrange a safe passage for Taliban who were willing to travel for peace talks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In the past, Islamabad acknowledged that it did allow some Taliban negotiators to travel to the Gulf for talks. However, the three countries are now pushing for an institutionalised mechanism under which Taliban interlocutors will be guaranteed a safe passage.
Islamabad, Washington and Kabul are also currently working with the United Nations (UN) to remove certain Taliban commanders from the world body’s terror list.
“Delegations from Kabul, Washington and Islamabad participated in today’s meeting and agreed to continue further discussions aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” said a statement issued by the foreign ministry. A US Embassy spokesperson also described talks on safe passage as ‘positive and constructive.’
However, success of the new initiative remains to be seen as many experts believe that previous attempts to lure foot-soldiers of the Afghan Taliban had failed.
Pakistan’s role is considered crucial for the Afghan endgame given its historic ties with the Afghan Taliban. A Pakistani official pointed out that Islamabad was committed to an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-driven reconciliation process. “We will do whatever we could to facilitate the peace process,” the official said requesting anonymity.
However, he cautioned that any process that seeks to exclude key stakeholders would not succeed.
“Our position is very clear that the centre of gravity should be Kabul … all initiatives must flow from there,” the official said, hinting at preconditions by Islamabad for its cooperation to the reconciliation efforts.
In the past, the Obama administration attempted to reach out to the Afghan insurgents on its own, bypassing both Islamabad and Kabul. However, Washington’s solo flight could not achieve the desired results. The US has since been struggling to revive stalled peace talks with the Afghan Taliban to prevent Afghanistan from descending into civil war after most foreign forces withdraw by the end of 2014.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2012.
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