ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will join other regional countries, including arch-rival India, this week in Moscow to discuss Afghanistan’s current situation with a focus on efforts seeking revival of the moribund peace process in the war-torn country.
Initially, there was uncertainty whether Islamabad would attend the unprecedented meeting when Russia’s foreign minister first announced it last week during the visit of Afghanistan’s foreign minister to Moscow.
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However, a senior Foreign Office official confirmed to The Express Tribune on Monday that Pakistan will attend the Feb 15 conclave. Ambassador Mansoor Ali Khan, the director general for Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey at the Foreign Office, will represent Islamabad.
It is not clear, however, as to who will represent other countries, including host Russia, Afghanistan, India, China and Iran. The Russian foreign minister hoped all the countries would send their high-level delegations.
But Pakistan’s participation suggested the Moscow meeting would be at the official level. The meeting has attracted unprecedented attention since Pakistan and India would also join the talks at a time when their ties are at the lowest ebb.
Besides bilateral disputes, Afghanistan has been one of the major stumbling blocks for the two countries to overcome. Both Islamabad and New Delhi accuse each other for using the Afghan soil to further their strategic interests.
India’s participation is also significant given that it is strongly opposed to recognising the Afghan Taliban as legitimate player.
However, diplomatic sources suggest India has to show flexibility on its stance considering that other big players, such Russia, China and even Iran, are now backing Pakistan’s position on seeking direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Russia, China and Iran are supportive of Pakistan’s position due to the fact that Islamic State terrorist organisation is fast gaining foothold in Afghanistan in the absence of all inclusive peace deal with the Afghan Taliban.
Russia and Iran, which in the past were staunch opponents of the Taliban, have in recent months established contacts with the insurgent group in an effort to use them as hedge against the more hardline Islamic State.
Meanwhile, the United States, a major stakeholder, has not been invited to the six-nation talks since the administration of President Donald Trump has yet to announce its policy on Afghanistan.
Last Thursday, the top US commander in Afghanistan said that there was a need for a ‘holistic review’ of the relationship with Pakistan, potentially opening the door for a new approach to one of America’s most vexing alliances.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2017.
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