Prominent religious scholars from Afghanistan are to soon visit Pakistan to discuss the agenda for the upcoming Ulema Conference, Afghan officials told The Express Tribune.
The conference, to be held in Kabul, was agreed upon during Afghan peace envoy Salahuddin Rabbani’s visit to Islamabad last month. The conference aims to win religious backing for the peace process in Afghanistan.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and her Afghani counterpart, Zalmai Rassoul, agreed, during their official talks in Islamabad on Friday, to hold the conference in January.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Janan Mosazai told The Express Tribune in Islamabad that clerics from both countries will hold consultations to discuss the agenda for the January meet, the first ever bilateral gathering of religious scholars from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The Ulema will also discuss names of those scholars who have the capability to play an effective role in pushing the peace process forward,” he said.
Contact with Taliban
Mosazai said Afghanistan wants Pakistan to “facilitate direct contact” between the Taliban and Afghan government, saying Islamabad can “encourage the Taliban” leaders to sincerely join the peace process.
“We also want Pakistan’s help in talks with the Taliban in a third country. Pakistan can help in arranging travel facilities for those Taliban who want to talk to the Afghan government and ensure that they face no threats,” the foreign ministry spokesperson added.
Mosazai welcomed what he called “Pakistan’s first practical step” to release some mid-ranking Taliban prisoners, and hoped that this would pave the way for more steps to push the peace process forward.
Pakistan freed nine Taliban prisoners, including senior commander Anwarul Haq Mujahid, last month, at Rabbani’s request. Four other Taliban prisoners had been freed ahead of Rabbani’s visit.
In addition, a joint statement issued at the conclusion of the day-long visit of the Afghan foreign minister on Friday stated that Pakistan has agreed to release more Taliban detainees.
“We demand the release of all Taliban prisoners in Pakistani jails as we believe they can play practical role in the peace process,” Mosazai said. He added that Pakistan’s role was not limited to the release of prisoners as “we consider it the beginning of more measures for reconciliation.”
According to an Afghan diplomat, all freed Taliban are allowed to go anywhere in Pakistan, Afghanistan or any other country and they would not be stopped or arrested under a safe passage mechanism.
Mosazai listed some issues which are to be resolved before the signing of a proposed strategic partnership agreement between the two countries. Pakistan handed over a draft of proposals for the accord to the Afghan foreign minister during his visit but Kabul has yet to officially share its own.
Masozai said there should be progress and practical steps to solve issues, including the fight against terrorism, shelling from Pakistani soil, implementation of the transit trade agreement and the refugees problem. “A solution to these problems will pave the way for signing the strategic agreement,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2012.