ISLAMABAD: International relations can be baffling: A country that has nothing to do with an issue is playing host to its solution.
Arguably one of the most prosperous countries in the world, Qatar has fast become the centre for the endgame of one of the most impoverished and battered – Afghanistan.
This trend will continue with the visit of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani next week to talk with officials from the Gulf state on the Afghan reconciliation process, a senior government official said on Saturday.
“Yes, the reconciliation process in Afghanistan will come under discussion during the talks with Qatar’s leadership,” the government official told AFP.
The Afghan Taliban announced last month it would open a political office in Qatar, suggesting the group may be willing to engage in negotiations that would likely give its government positions or official control over much of its historical southern heartland.
Afghanistan has given its blessing to the move, but Kabul, wary of being sidelined in talks between the insurgents and Washington, has insisted on a central role in any negotiations.
Ties between Islamabad and Kabul have been strained in recent months but Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said after a visit to Afghanistan last week that ill will had eased considerably between the two neighbours, and even though Pakistan has not been playing a substantial role in the nascent Afghan peace process, she said, it would encourage militant groups like the Haqqani network or the Taliban to lay down their weapons if asked by Kabul.
“While it is not specifically on the agenda, Afghanistan will be discussed, including briefings from the Qatari leadership on efforts being made for the peace process and the Taliban office,” the official added.
Khar is expected to accompany the prime minister on the February 6-8 Qatar trip.
The foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment.
Gilani’s trip to Qatar precedes a trilateral summit in Islamabad between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan on February 16. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are scheduled to travel to Pakistan for the summit that will discuss the Afghan endgame.
Qatar has been centre stage for not only the Afghan endgame but reportedly US-Pakistan negotiations, as well.
As part of behind-the-scene efforts, Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha is also said to have visited Doha, Qatar, a few times – where he was believed to have met senior US military and intelligence officials in the aftermath of the Nato cross-border attacks on Pakistani checkposts along the Afghan border.
The US military has strong presence in Qatar. The US’ Centcom maintains its regional headquarters in what is known as the Arab world’s financial capital.
It’s not all about Afghanistan, though. The prime minister will also hold talks to further promote trade and investment ties.
Oil and gas rich Qatar is considered to have the highest gross domestic product growth rate in the world – a whopping 18.7% – and the lowest unemployment rate at 0.4%. The peninsula state also has one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world.
Among other things, the prime minister will discuss the import of liquified natural gas (LNG) and also the finalisation of transnational formalities in this regard. The two governments are likely to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority and Qatar’s ministry of energy.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2012.
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