In yet another step suggesting Pakistan’s eagerness to facilitate a peace deal in Afghanistan, Islamabad last month facilitated direct talks between the Taliban and Afghan government officials, The Express Tribune has learnt.
When senior Taliban figures – including Shahabuddin Dilawar and Naeem Wardak – met with other Afghan factions representing both the government and opposition in Paris last month, it was Pakistan that played a key role in breaking the impasse between the two sides, senior officials disclosed on Sunday.
Though organised by a French think-tank with the backing of the French government, the first-ever direct talks became possible after Pakistan agreed to set a number of Taliban cadres free.
During the visit of top Afghan peace negotiator Salauddin Rabbani to Islamabad in November last year, he informed Pakistani officials that the Taliban have shown their willingness to enter into negotiations provided certain preconditions were met.
One of their pre-conditions was that Pakistan released certain Taliban members, who might play a crucial role in peacemaking.
At Rabbani’s request, the Pakistani government agreed to release 13 mid-ranking Taliban cadres as a confidence building measure to persuade the insurgents to come to the negotiating table.
This decision was welcomed by Taliban and that eventually led to their participation in the Paris talks.
“We have been saying all along unless there is dialogue among the Afghan themselves no process can be successful,” said the official.
“As far as Pakistan is concerned, we have already met Afghan government’s two major demands: release of Taliban prisoners and persuading them to come to the negotiating table,” added another official.
However, the official would not provide details as to how and when Pakistan convinced the Taliban for talks.
But it is believed that the Afghan government established contacts with the Taliban through their former deputy Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is currently in Pakistan’s custody. Sources said the Afghan government, through Pakistan, was in contact with Mullah Baradar.
The Afghan government has sought his release but the senior Taliban figure, according to Pakistani officials, was not willing to go back to his homeland at this stage.
However, some sources claimed that he was now very much active in behind-the-scene efforts to kick-start the peace process.
Asked about Pakistan’s position on the recent talks between the Taliban and Afghan representatives, foreign ministry spokesperson Moazzam Ali Khan said Islamabad would support any process “that may lead to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process”.
His carefully-worded remarks suggest that Pakistan was in fact supportive of the French initiative.
Pakistan is considered crucial for any peace deal in Afghanistan.
The country’s powerful security establishment, which always formulates policies on such sensitive issues, is said to be backing the reconciliation process and seeking to finalise a deal before the US-led foreign forces leave the region by the end of 2014.
Taliban representatives were invited to the two-day talks to negotiate the future of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Western troops at the end of 2014.
But at the conclusion of talks, the Taliban demanded a new Afghan constitution “based on the principles of the holy religion of Islam, national interest, historical achievements and social justice”.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2013.
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