A tripartite summit has committed to achieve in “six months” what has been eluding the international community for over a decade: peace in Afghanistan.
President Asif Ali Zardari and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai said on Monday they would work to reach a peace deal within six months, while throwing their weight behind moves for the Taliban to open an office in Doha.
Following talks hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron, the two leaders also urged the ultraorthodox militia to join the reconciliation process.
But with no Taliban representation at the talks and with the insurgents still averse to negotiations with Kabul, analysts said the commitment by the trio risked being one-sided.
The three leaders had a private dinner on Sunday and then full talks on Monday at Cameron’s Chequers country retreat near London, amid growing fears that a civil war could erupt when foreign troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.
“All sides agreed on the urgency of this work and committed themselves to take all necessary measures to achieve the goal of a peaceful settlement over the next six months,” they said in a joint statement issued by Cameron’s office.
“They supported the opening of an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the Taliban and the High Peace Council of Afghanistan as part of an Afghan-led peace process,” the statement said.
Karzai had previously shunned the idea of a Taliban office in Doha because of fears that it would lead to the Kabul government being frozen out of talks between the United States and the Taliban.
The joint statement also said the Afghan and Pakistani leaders had agreed arrangements to “strengthen coordination” of the release of Taliban detainees from Pakistani custody.
Afghan peace negotiators have welcomed the release of dozens of Taliban prisoners by Islamabad in recent months – a move they believe could help bring militants to the negotiating table.
There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban.
The summit was the third trilateral meeting in a year following meetings in Kabul in July and New York last September – but the first in which Pakistani and Afghan army and intelligence chiefs took part.
Cameron, whose country is the second biggest contributor of troops to Afghanistan with 9,000 troops still in the country, appealed directly to the Taliban to join the reconciliation process. “Now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful, political process in Afghanistan,” he told a press conference after the talks.
Karzai said he hoped in future to have “very close, brotherly and good neighbourly” relations with Pakistan.
Support from Pakistan is seen as crucial to peace after Nato troops depart – but relations between the neighbours remain uneasy despite some recent improvements.
Zardari said it was in Islamabad’s interests to support the initiative.
“Peace in Afghanistan is peace in Pakistan. We feel that we can only survive together,” he said. “We cannot change our neighbourhood or our neighbours.” Political and security analyst Hasan Askari dismissed as “too ambitious” the prospect of securing in six months a settlement to end more than 11 years of war. The lack of Taliban involvement in the talks was a particular problem, he said.
Askari said the most realistic achievement in London would be better cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, whose relations for years have been clouded by mutual blame for violence plaguing both countries.
Asked whether there could be a peace deal in six months, Askari said: “I don’t expect that, it would be a major upset of the calculation.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2013.