As the Doha peace process stumbled into early roadblocks this week, Pakistan expressed fears that the initiative might break down due to the ‘contradictory approach’ of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration. This comes as US President Barack Obama’s pointman for the region travelled to Islamabad on Tuesday in a desperate bid to break the deadlock in the fledgling peace process.
James Dobbins, US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif amidst uncertainty about the fate of the recently-inaugurated Taliban ‘political office’ in the Qatari capital to find a negotiated settlement of the 12-year old conflict in Afghanistan.
Premier Nawaz was accompanied by his aide on national security and foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz and army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Dobbins briefed the prime minister about the developments relating to the opening of the Taliban office in Doha, according to an official statement.
Dobbins flew into Islamabad from Kabul where he attempted to address President Karzai’s concerns over the nature of the Doha office.
He acknowledged Pakistan’s key role in the Afghan reconciliation process. Although Pakistan does not have a ‘controlling influence’ over the Taliban, it has more influence on the ultraconservative militia than any other country.
Premier Nawaz told Ambassador Dobbins that Pakistan had the highest stakes in the return of peace and stability to Afghanistan. He assured him of Pakistan’s full commitment to an ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ peace process and highlighted various steps Islamabad has taken in this regard, said the statement.
The prime minister also pointed out that the situation in Afghanistan had reached a crucial phase and this called for Pakistan and the United States to remain closely engaged.
Following talks with the US envoy, Nawaz also telephoned President Karzai to assure him of Pakistan’s support in the Afghan peace process.
Ambassador Dobbins told reporters after the meeting that President Karzai was ready for talks but the onus was now on the Taliban. “The Afghan Taliban tried to stage a propaganda coup,” Dobbins said referring to the hoisting of the flag of the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ atop the building where the Taliban set up their ‘political office’ in Doha last week.
The Karzai administration reacted angrily to the move and said that the Taliban were trying to portray themselves as a government-in-exile through the Qatar office. Karzai said the Afghan High Peace Council, the government-sponsored body set up to make peace with the Taliban, would not take part in the Doha initiative unless the process was ‘Afghan-led’.
However, in a background briefing, a senior official at Pakistan’s foreign ministry told a group of journalists that it was very difficult to conclude at this stage whether the Qatar process would achieve any success. “We want the process to be successful but given Karazi’s position the dialogue process may collapse,” cautioned the official.
He went on to say that it appeared that President Karzai neither wanted the Doha initiative nor next year’s Afghan presidential elections to succeed. The assessment of top Pakistani foreign policymaker appears to suggest the Doha process may not take off anytime soon.
TTP supports Doha talks
In a related development, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the outlawed conglomerate of militant groups blamed for most violence in the country, welcomed the Doha initiative.
In a video message, the group’s spokesperson Ehsanullah Ahsan said on Tuesday that the TTP was a wing of the Afghan Taliban and “they are subordinate of Ameer-ul-Momineen Mullah Omar and obey his orders.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2013.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ