ISLAMABAD: Top Afghan peace negotiator Salahuddin Rabbani is due here on Wednesday for a two-day visit to discuss Pakistan’s possible role in the reconciliation efforts.
Cautious optimism prevails here ahead of Mr Rabbani’s trip, seen by diplomatic observers as extremely important. While everyone agrees that the visit may help the reconciliation effort, they are not very hopeful about something major coming out of it.
“The visit would mostly be about rebuilding confidence,” a diplomatic observer said and predicted “small steps” being taken to improve atmospherics.
Mr Rabbani, who succeeded his father Burhanuddin Rabbani as chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council, was invited to visit Pakistan last month by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.
Mr Rabbani has been making efforts to revive the reconciliation process that received a major setback with the assassination of his father by a Taliban `emissary’. Afghanistan had blamed a Pakistan-based Taliban group for the murder. Pakistan and Afghanistan later established a joint investigation into the killing.
Diplomatic sources believe that confidence deficit between the two sides still exists.
The Afghan peace council chairman, during his meetings with Pakistani interlocutors, would most likely be demanding their help to bring Taliban leadership to the negotiating table and release of Taliban leaders like Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who Afghans believe could be very helpful for the reconciliation process.
A source said Pakistan could encourage warring groups to join the peace initiative, but didn’t have enough influence with them to convince them to join the talks.
The government had in February launched a public appeal for the Taliban and other groups fighting in Afghanistan to join an intra-Afghan process for national reconciliation and peace.
Pakistani officials insist the government supports a peace agreement and point out that the country permitted some Taliban representatives to travel to the Gulf this year for talks.
They say Afghans lack clarity and coherence in their strategy for carrying forward the peace process which, it is believed, offers the best chance to end the conflict.
Analysts say the outcome of Mr Salahuddin’s visit would depend on what Pakistan could offer to him and to what extent could it deliver on its pledges.
Prime Minister Ashraf, in a meeting with Mr Rabbani during his visit to Kabul recently, pledged all-out assistance.