Pakistan cautions Kabul on Taliban peace hopes

Pakistan cautions Kabul on Taliban peace hopes

Pakistan cautions Kabul on Taliban peace hopes

Presidents from Afghanistan, Karzai (L), Pakistan’s Zardari (C) and Iran’s Ahmadinejad join hands as they pose for pictures in Islamabad

Pakistan’s foreign minister said Feb. 17 it would be “preposterous” for Afghanistan to expect Islamabad to deliver the Taliban’s leader to the negotiating table, as talks between the two countries on the peace process ended with little sign of progress.

Pakistan is seen as key to the process because Taliban chief Mullah Omar and other senior commanders are believed to be based in the country. Islamabad has close historical ties to the group but has always denied that the Taliban leadership is based within its borders.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called on Pakistan in the past to facilitate contact with the insurgent group’s leaders during his current visit.

Leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran held a three-way summit in Islamabad over the past two days that focused on Taliban peace talks, including steps Pakistan could take to help the process, and other regional issues. The summit ended Feb. 17. However, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar indicated her government was still uncertain on exactly what Afghanistan wanted, saying “they have not conveyed that clarity to us.” Karzai also seemed to indicate the process going forward was uncertain. “What we need now is to formulate a policy that is actionable and implementable, and actually act upon it,” Karzai said at a press conference featuring Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Khar’s comments came as she spoke to reporters after the press conference. The foreign minister cautioned against Kabul expecting too much in terms of Pakistan providing access to the Taliban’s leaders. “If you have unrealistic, almost ridiculous expectations, then you don’t have common ground to begin with,” said Khar.

Khar said that any expectation that Pakistan can deliver the Taliban’s chief for talks is “not only unrealistic, but preposterous.” Pakistan and Afghanistan have long had a troubled relationship, one that grew more difficult last year when a suicide bomber assassinated former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul. He had been serving as Afghanistan’s envoy to Taliban peace talks, and Afghan officials accused Pakistan of playing a role in the killing allegations it denied.

Meanwhile, Taliban insurgents on Feb. 26 denied that they had begun talks with the Afghan government alongside early contacts over negotiations with the U.S. The Taliban “strongly dismiss this statement by (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai,” spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement on the militants’ website.