Afghan president’s visit to Pakistan marks restart of top-level contacts

Afghan president’s visit to Pakistan marks restart of top-level contacts
# 18 February 2012 03:27 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Pakistani leaders pledged their support for the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process during the meetings with visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai who arrived here on Thursday for a two-day trilateral summit which also included Iran, APA reports quoting Xinhua.

In a joint communiqu issued on Friday after the conclusion of the summit, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mehmoud Ahmadinejad "reiterated their full support for the authentic Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of peace and reconciliation."

The Afghan president’s visit to Pakistan, the second in eight months, was in fact a restart of the top level contacts between the two countries which had been weakened and suspended following the assassination of Afghan peace envoy Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani last September.

In the wake of the incident, the Afghan government abruptly canceled the visit to Kabul by Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in October as Afghan interior minister and intelligence officials blamed Pakistani security agencies for helping the plot to kill Rabbani.

Officials of the two countries had resumed contacts when reports started pouring in about the opening of the political office of Afghan Taliban in Qatar and that Taliban have held " exploratory" talks with the United States in the Gulf state. Kabul had angrily reacted to the reports and recalled its ambassador to Qatar in December as a protest against approval of Taliban’s opening office without consulting with the Afghan government.

The decision to recall its ambassador from Qatar was also a sign of disappointment over the U.S.’ understanding with the Taliban to open the office and to hold mysterious talks with the Taliban. Western media reported in mid-December that the U.S. also supported the opening of Taliban office in Qatar.

Pakistan had the similar thinking that it had also been kept in darkness about the U.S.-Taliban talks and the move had been in fact contrary to the U.S. policy of supporting Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and that all sides must have representation in any dialogue process.

A shared feeling of "betrayal" is believed to have brought about the thaw in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. The four-month deadlock was ended when the Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar traveled to Kabul on Feb. 1. The high-level contacts of senior officials between the two sides made Khar’s visit possible for Kabul to finalize President Karzai’ visit to Islamabad.

The Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are now back on track after both countries strongly felt that they had been "ignored" by the United States in the Qatar process of dialogue with the Afghan Taliban.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in his interaction with Pakistani TV anchors in Islamabad on Friday morning, renewed his proposal that the Afghan government wants to talk to Taliban either in Saudi Arabia or Turkey.

Officials who declined to be named said that it is widely believed in Islamabad and Kabul that the U.S. stepped up its talks with the Afghan Taliban in Qatar last September following the breakdown of Pakistan-Afghanistan joint peace efforts.

Both Islamabad and Kabul were not kept in the loop, they added.

They said that the U.S. has now realized its "mistake" of " ignoring" the two countries and last month’s visit to the region by the U.S. special envoy Marc Grossman was aimed at updating the two countries on what had happened in the U.S.-Taliban interaction so far.

Pakistan snubbed the U.S. envoy and refused to receive him in Islamabad on grounds that the parliamentary review of the future Pakistan-U.S. relationship was not yet completed. They said that another reason behind the snub was its displeasure at being kept out of the loop.

American media, however, recently claimed that Pakistani officials had acknowledged that Islamabad was on board over the opening of the Taliban political office in Qatar. Pakistan Foreign Office confirmed earlier this month for the first time that the U. S. had shared information about its talks with the Taliban. Pakistan has never publicly discussed its reservations over the Taliban-U.S. interaction but the country is unhappy with the way the U.S. is taking the process forward, they said.

But Kabul, meanwhile, has publicly conveyed its reservations over U.S. unilateral actions, an Afghan diplomat said. An Afghan diplomat confirmed reports that Qatar will send a delegation to Kabul to discuss bilateral issues and both sides will then sign a memorandum of understanding for future "cooperation".

Now when Pakistan and Afghanistan have resumed high-level contacts, Kabul will expect Islamabad to take steps to facilitate contacts and dialogue between Karzai’s administration and the Taliban. Afghan Ambassador to Islamabad Omar Daudzai told Xinhua ahead of Karzai’s visit that Pakistan had repeatedly pledged to back the Afghan-led peace process and now it is the time to honor the commitment and take practical steps.

Kabul is anxiously awaiting Pakistan’s action as Afghan officials claimed that Pakistan still has influence on Taliban and can encourage them to come to the negotiation table. Pakistan and Afghanistan launched a joint peace and reconciliation commission in April last year but Afghan officials said there had been no serious attempt by Pakistan to facilitate "contacts and dialogue" with Taliban at high level.

An Afghan diplomat said that Kabul wants Pakistan to take steps to use its influence on Taliban to begin the dialogue process towards reaching an agreement before the NATO troops withdraw in 2014.
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