ISLAMABAD: When Pakistan played host to prominent Afghan politicians at the tourist resort of Murree at the weekend, the country was sending a clear message: that it wanted to work with all Afghan groups – irrespective of their ethnicity – for the larger objective of finding an elusive peace deal.
As many as 57 delegates – including 18 prominent Afghan figures, mostly non-Pashtun – held a day-long conference in Bhurban organised by a Lahore-based think-tank as part of Track II initiative.
“The initiative enjoys the full backing of the Pakistani government that wants to provide a platform to all Afghan groups to sort out their differences,” said one of the organisers of the moot.
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In attendance were Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Karim Khalili, Atta Noor Mohammad, Fouzia Kofi, Mohammad Mohaqiq, Mohammad Younus Qanooni, Ismail Khan and former national security adviser and presidential candidate for the upcoming elections in Afghanistan Hanif Atmar.
"It was nothing short of a diplomatic coup,” said an official who was involved in arranging the conference.
Even those Afghan politicians, who were sceptical of Pakistan’s role in the peace process, accepted our invitation, he added while explaining his use of the term.
Most of the Afghan politicians, who attended the conference, publicly accused Islamabad of being responsible for the mess Afghanistan is in, said one of the Pakistani participants and added but at the conference, they had different thoughts and were positive about Pakistan’s role.
"The whole idea behind the Lahore Process was to bring all Afghan groups on the [negotiating] table to decide the future of their country," said the participant while requesting anonymity.
He said the process would not stop there, as more meetings were being planned. Although the Taliban were not invited at the conference, the insurgents are likely to attend meetings in the future.
Shamshad Ahmed, former foreign secretary and head of the Lahore-based think-tank that organised the Bhurban conference, said the initiative was meant to help start “intra-Afghan” dialogue.
A lot of work was done behind the scenes to convince the Afghan groups to attend the meeting. Shamshad's personal relationship with certain Afghan politicians dating back to his service days also helped bring non-Pashtun figures on board.
Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai was also willing to attend the conference but couldn't make it due to certain demands that the organisers said were difficult to meet at a short notice.
He is expected to visit some time later.
The gathering of key Afghan groups in Pakistan was seen as important given the upcoming talks between the US and Taliban in Doha earlier next month.
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So far the Taliban have refused to engage with the Afghan government directly. The Afghan government and other groups, worried that they may be excluded from the process with the US, are looking for face saving.
“Pakistan,” officials said, “wants to avoid that scenario, as such a situation may lead to another cycle of a civil war.”
Against this backdrop, the upcoming visit of President Ashraf Ghani also assumes greater significance, as Pakistan is looking to play a positive role in facilitating an all-inclusive dialogue among the Afghan groups.
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