Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and her Afghan counterpart, Dr Zalmai Rasoul will travel to Saudia Arabia to discuss the kingdom’s possible role in the Afghan reconciliation process.
This comes on the heels of recent interactions of Saudi officials with representatives of the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami party of former Afghan premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Previously, Saudi Arabia was unwilling to get involved in the Afghan peace process unless the Taliban shunned al Qaeda. But now the kingdom has agreed in principle to act on a joint request from the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Together the Pakistani and Afghan foreign ministers will travel to Saudi Arabia, possibly this year for trilateral talks,” an Afghan diplomat told The Express Tribune in Islamabad. The Afghan foreign minister will soon visit Islamabad for talks with Khar, and the plan to visit Riyadh will top their agenda.
“Saudi officials will brief Pakistani and Afghan foreign ministers about their talks with the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami representatives,” said the diplomat, who requested anonymity.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai had reached an understanding to formally seek the Saudi help in the peace process during his talks with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad in February, an official, who had been part of the Afghan delegation, had earlier told The Express Tribune.
Diplomatic sources also say the US had sought the Saudi help after the Taliban pulled out of talks with the US in Qatar in March this year.
Some Afghan analysts, however, are sceptical about how successful the Saudi initiative could be, and say that the Taliban are unlikely to opt for another venue for talks as it will weaken the Qatar-centric dialogue.
Waheed Mujda, an Afghan analyst, told The Express Tribune via telephone from Kabul that the Taliban were interested in opening their office in Qatar to gain official and global recognition.
“(So) they will not be interested in the Saudi initiative and will never weaken the Qatar process,” Mujda concluded.
On the other hand, a former senior Taliban leader, Agha Jan Mutasim, had a different view, saying that he was confident that Saudi Arabia could play an important role in view of the “kingdom’s spiritual recognition”.
Mutasim, who once headed the Taliban’s powerful political commission, told The Express Tribune that the Saudis’ role could yield positive results.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2012.
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