ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan’s top peace negotiator will seek the release of senior Afghan Taliban prisoners languishing in Pakistani jails in an effort to “push forward the much-needed reconciliation process”.
Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of Afghan High Peace Council, along with his other colleagues, is arriving in Islamabad on Monday for a three-day visit.
Rabbani will also seek a ‘safe passage’ for reconcilable Taliban leaders and their families, Muhammad Esmail Qasemyar, the international relations adviser for the Afghan High Peace Council, told The Express Tribune by phone from Kabul.
Rabbani will also raise the issue of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former No 2 in the Taliban hierarchy who was arrested in Karachi in February 2010, he added.
Kabul considers Mullah Baradar as the key to the success of its reconciliation plan, and has sought from Pakistan his release on several occasions.
During the trip, Rabbani will meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and the military leadership, according to the Afghan foreign ministry.
The ministry did not disclose the agenda of these meetings but Qasemyar said Rabbani would seek the release of all Taliban prisoners in Pakistan, including Mullah Baradar, and a transit for Taliban leaders during their travels abroad in connection with peace talks.
Officially, Pakistan has never admitted the detention of any Taliban leader, except Mullah Baradar.
But the Taliban say hundreds of their fighters have been arrested by Pakistani authorities, according to Afghan analyst Waheed Mujda.
Qasemyar dubbed the peace council delegation’s visit “very important”. Its members have pinned high hopes on the trip – they are confident that Pakistan, as a brotherly neighbour, will extend sincere cooperation and promote the Afghan peace process, according to Qasemyar.
“We would like the Pakistani government – especially the military and its intelligence wing – to press the Taliban leadership into coming closer to the negotiating table in an effort to resolve the Afghan crisis,” he added.
Kabul accuses Pakistan’s spy agency of using groups like the Haqqani network as proxies to counter the influence of rival India in Afghanistan. Islamabad denies the allegations.
Qasemyar said peace in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest. “Peace in Afghanistan will benefit Pakistan 10 times more than Afghanistan,” he added.
Salahuddin Rabbani’s visit was postponed twice in the past as both sides had “failed to agree on the agenda” as well as details of the council’s interactions in Pakistan, Afghan sources told The Express Tribune.
“The peace council will urge Pakistan to take practical steps to aid the peace process and work out a political solution before the 2014 withdrawal of foreign troops,” an Afghan source said.
The Afghan peace council members also seek meetings with leaders of Pakistani political and religious parties in an effort to win their support for the reconciliation process, an Afghan source told The Express Tribune.
The Afghan Embassy is in the process of arranging these meetings, the source added.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 12th, 2012.