“Deliver Mullah Omar? If that is the expectation, then there’s no reality check then. Then they’re not only unrealistic, but preposterous.”
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s words on Friday summed up how a trip hailed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai as the most important in the past decade concluded – in apparent acrimony.
After two days of high-level talks, the two countries still seemed poles apart when it came to advancing reconciliation with the Taliban.
“The talks were hard. But sometimes you need to have hard talks,” Khar told reporters after the meetings between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani leaders in Islamabad.
Afghan officials claim that Karzai arrived in Pakistan with hopes to press Pakistan to provide access to senior Afghan Taliban leaders belonging to the so-called Quetta Shura. They would be the decision-makers in any peace negotiations.
“We are willing to look at any thing. But if you have unrealistic, almost ridiculous expectations, then you don’t have sort of common ground to begin with,” Khar said.
The foreign minister’s unusually harsh public comments, made after Karzai reportedly demanded that Pakistan must bring Taliban leaders to the negotiating table, demonstrated the depth of the frustration between the neighbouring countries with the war in Afghanistan in its eleventh year.
Diplomatic sources say that Karzai’s blunt demand came as a shock for the Pakistani political and military leadership, which denies that the country holds any sway over the Afghan Taliban.
Khar said after a recent trip to Kabul that a lot of the ill will between the neighbours had faded. Pakistan, she said, would encourage Afghan militant groups to pursue peace if asked by Kabul.
However, following Karzai’s surprise demand, Islamabad was quick to play down the hype of its role, saying that, even though it is in favour of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process, it has never spelt out its strategy.
Trilateral summit overshadowed
A wide range of issues including counter-terrorism and other regional matters were discussed between President Asif Ali Zardari, President Hamid Karzai and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the trilateral summit.
Karzai seemed cautiously optimistic on relations between Kabul and Islamabad.
“I’m glad to convey to you, brother, that the engagements that we have had recently—unfortunately with incidents in between—have been fruitful,” he told a news conference after the talks.
“What we need now is to formulate a policy that is actionable and implementable.”
“Our meeting today at the tripartite of the three countries was one that was futuristically orientated with recognition of the opportunities and dangers around,” the Afghan leader said.
President Zardari brushed aside allegations that Pakistan’s security establishment was supporting the Taliban in attacks against coalition forces stationed in Afghanistan.
“I deny this notion that any of our armed forces are directly or indirectly involved,” Zardari told a news conference when asked about evidence pointing to the involvement of Pakistani spies and officials in the conflict.
“Yes I cannot deny that there is a residue in Pakistan of the war that was fought against the Soviet Union,” Zardari said, referring to Pakistan’s involvement in the 1980s war in Afghanistan that gave rise to the Taliban and al Qaeda.
“The three presidents you see sitting together, we shall fight this menace. Nobody is more concerned or more involved in it than me personally,” he said.
President extends support to Iran
Earlier, President Zardari assured his Iranian counterpart that Pakistan would side with the Islamic Republic if it were attacked by Israel or the US.
Islamabad would not allow its bases to be used by the US forces if Iran was attacked, Zardari said.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out against foreign interference in the region.
“All problems are coming from outside. In order to promote their goals and ambitions... they don’t want to allow our nations to develop,” Ahmadinejad told a news conference, in a clear, but unnamed, allusion to the West.
A joint declaration issued after the summit said the three states would not allow any threat emanating from their respective territories against each other. “All parties agreed to commence trilateral consultations on an agreement in this regard”.
The presidents of Iran and Pakistan reiterated their full support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned inclusive process of peace and reconciliation. The summit mandated the foreign ministers of each country to prepare and coordinate a road map for trilateral cooperation to be submitted during the next summit in Kabul, to be held at the end of this year.
The interior/security ministers were asked to develop a framework of trilateral cooperation particularly in the areas of counter terrorism, counter-narcotics and border management within six months.
The commerce ministers were authorised to outline steps for enhancing three-way economic cooperation.
The summit also decided to contribute to the development and reconstruction in Afghanistan besides agreeing to broaden cooperation in the political, security, economic, cultural, social and educational fields and enhance people to people contacts including exchange visits of parliamentarians, academicians and journalists.
The presidents also expressed commitment to expand trade in transit and decided that the three nations would enhance connectivity by promoting project cooperation in infrastructure, road and rail links, transport and communications.
They also agreed to develop mutually beneficial cooperation in the energy, mining and minerals, agriculture and other sectors and cooperate for the safe, voluntary and early return of Afghan refugees to their homeland in honour and dignity.
(Read: Trilateral summit in Islamabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2012.