After a gap of over six-months, Pakistan and Afghanistan have decided to revive a bilateral mechanism initiated last year to work out strategies for holding direct negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, officials said.
The move by the neighbours to hold a meeting of a high-level joint commission came just days after an unprecedented announcement by the Taliban to open a ‘political’ office in Qatar to hold talks with the United States.
The joint commission, headed by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and President Hamid Karzai, and comprising military and intelligence chiefs from both sides, held its inaugural session in June last year in Islamabad. The commission was established in early 2011 with an aim to further the reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
However, the process was suspended in September following the assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was spearheading efforts to seek a political settlement of the Afghan conflict by reaching out to the Taliban.
Prime Minister Gilani was due to lead a high-powered delegation to Kabul the same month, but the visit was put off after the Karzai administration publicly accused the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of involvement in the murder of Rabbani – a charge Islamabad strongly denies.
A senior Pakistani official speaking on the condition of anonymity told The Express Tribune that, in recent weeks, the two countries have covered ground to overcome their differences, enabling the revival of a joint commission. The meeting of the commission is expected to take place by the end of January or early next month.
When approached, foreign ministry spokesperson Abdul Basit confirmed that the venue and dates for the long-delayed meeting of the commission are being worked out by the two countries.
This week, Islamabad and Kabul have dropped clear hints that they are inching closer towards putting the bilateral process back on track after months of tensions.
Afghan Ambassador Mohammad Umer Daudzai met Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Wednesday to discuss the resumption of the Pak-Afghan Joint Economic Commission. The meeting of the economic commission will take place in the third week of January in Islamabad, according to the foreign office. Economic cooperation also suffered casualties as a result of the tensions between the two neighbours.
Both sides agreed on the need for high-level visits to provide “the requisite impetus to bilateral relations,” said Basit.
Thaw in Pak-US tensions?
The apparent thaw in the relationship between the two countries came amid Islamabad’s continuing tensions with Washington over the November 26 Nato airstrikes.
However, officials say improvement in ties with Kabul is an indication that some normalcy is expected to return in relations with the US.
Though Pakistan has yet to react publicly to the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar, the US did take Islamabad into confidence over the issue. The development also suggests that both Pakistan and the US have started talking to each other – at least on the Afghan ‘endgame’ after a pause caused by strained ties following the Nato attack.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2012.