ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey will weigh the possibility of setting up a “Taliban office” in a neutral country to facilitate peace talks when their leaders meet in the Turkish capital this week, The Express Tribune has learnt.
At the Ankara summit on Tuesday and Wednesday, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai will focus on how to push the nascent peace process forward in Afghanistan, diplomatic sources said.
One of the proposals on the table will be to invite the Afghan Taliban to set up their office in Turkey or any other neutral country, sources added.
The idea was first put across by former Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef in 2010. But it could not materialise apparently due to the reluctance of the Taliban.
Fresh efforts are being made to revive the initiative in the backdrop of the bonhomie created by the release of some mid-ranking Taliban cadres by Pakistan.
It is believed that the establishment of a Taliban office may pave the way for the release of senior Taliban cadres, including former Taliban No 2 Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who could help bring the militants to the negotiating table.
Pakistan’s reluctance to free Mullah Baradar stems from the absence of a clear mechanism and fears of a US backlash, according to sources.
Sources said one of the options being discussed between Pakistan and Afghanistan was to allow Taliban leaders to travel to a neutral country where they could work out a peace agreement.
In the past both Pakistan and Afghanistan have endorsed the idea of a Taliban office in a neutral country, while Turkey also offered help for this purpose.
The Ankara summit will be the sixth in Turkey, a Nato member, since the regular consultation mechanism was established in 2007 to encourage Pakistan and Afghanistan to cooperate against extremism.
“Afghanistan is the main issue to be discussed at the trilateral summit,” said a foreign ministry official when asked about the possibility of a Taliban office in Turkey.
The official said Pakistan was pushing Afghanistan to strike a deal with insurgents at the earliest in an effort to ensure a smooth transition before the Nato-led foreign forces leave the country by 2014.
During his recent visit to Brussels, Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani gave Pakistan’s perspective on the Afghan endgame.
Kayani, according to military sources, urged all the players to reach a peace deal with the Taliban next year in order to avoid any chaos at the time of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
The Ankara summit is expected to be overshadowed by President Hamid Karzai’s claim that a recent attack against the Afghan spy chief was planned in Pakistan.
The National Directorate of Security (NDS) chief, Asadullah Khaled, survived Thursday’s assassination bid by an attacker who claimed to be a Taliban peace envoy but had a bomb hidden in his undergarments.
President Karzai did not directly blame Pakistan for the attack but said the Taliban alone would not have been able to carry out the attack and that “bigger hands were involved”.
Pakistan rejected Karzai’s claim and said it was ready to help investigate what it called a criminal act.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 10th, 2012.
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