While offering an olive branch to the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday telephoned Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and sought his support to reach out to the militia.
“Karzai underscored Pakistan’s importance in the peace process, and reiterated his request for its assistance in the reconciliation process,” said a statement issued by the Prime Minister House on Tuesday.
Karzai took Premier Gilani into confidence regarding his earlier telephone conversation with US President Barack Obama. The prime minister assured Karzai that Pakistan would whole-heartedly continue supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.
Following his telephone conversation with Premier Gilani and President Obama, the Afghan leader formally invited the Taliban leadership for direct talks with his government.
“In order to realise the objectives of the peace process, I invite the Taliban leadership to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government,” Karzai said in a statement issued by his office.
The US was quick to welcome Karzai’s offer. “We have been gratified to see President Karzai speaking out publicly in support of Afghan-to-Afghan reconciliation,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. “Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job... because when we get to the point where it’s Afghans and Afghans talking to each other, then we’ll really have a true reconciliation process,” she said.
In a related development, a group of Afghan officials from Kandahar province has left Afghanistan for Quetta to meet Taliban commanders and discuss peace efforts.
“We have been in contact with mid-level Taliban commanders in Quetta for some time. In the last 10 days, our peace council delegations have gone to Quetta three times in twos and threes,” Kandahar peace council head Ata Mohammad Ahmadi told Reuters.
It is unlikely that any meetings between Afghan officials and Taliban commanders could take place in Quetta without the knowledge of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.
Pakistan may have stepped up its cooperation with the Afghan government by facilitating what Ahmadi said were meetings in Quetta. Pakistani officials were not immediately available for comment.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2012.