ISLAMABAD, Nov 14: The Foreign Office and Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC) agreed on Wednesday on a number of confidence-building measures to lure Taliban to the reconciliation process, including the release of several detainees currently in the custody of Pakistani authorities and making the ‘safe passage’ for reconcilable fighters functional.
The two sides urged the Taliban and other insurgent groups to join the process of reconciliation and asked them to disassociate themselves from Al Qaeda and other trans-national terror groups, but stayed short of setting it as a precondition for becoming part of the peace process.
Other than the two sides agreeing on a joint statement after three days of negotiations, a significant step forward towards collaboration for peace, the extension in HPC’s visit by a day was being seen by observers here as extraordinary.
No reason was officially shared for the extension of the delegation’s stay in Islamabad, but a source claimed that the visit had been extended because of continuing negotiations between Pakistani officials and the HPC over the release of Mullah Baradar — the Taliban number 2 arrested in 2010 — and some other key insurgent commanders being held here.
The joint statement had broadly said: “In support of peace and reconciliation process and in response to the requests of the Afghan government/HPC, a number of Taliban detainees are being released.”
Nothing was publicly said about who was being freed or what were the criteria for releasing someone.
The government and the Afghan delegation kept a strong shroud of secrecy around the issue of release of the detainees — one of the main HPC demands — but sources said Pakistan had set free about 10 mid-ranking Taliban leaders in the first batch as a gesture of goodwill and support for the peace process.
However, the Afghan side had wanted to see some influential incarcerated figures, including Mullah Baradar and Taliban supremo Mullah Omar’s senior aides, being freed.
A member of the visiting delegation said the HPC was nevertheless encouraged by the Pakistani move to free the detainees.
The joint statement reiterated the commitment of all three countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US — to allow safe passage to ‘potential negotiators’ for taking part in peace talks.
A Pakistani official said the HPC was assured that any Taliban figure willing to engage in negotiations would be able “to go anywhere without harm or fear of arrest”.
The official said the safe passage was now fully operational.
Islamabad and Kabul would also work together for removal of the names of reconcilable Taliban from the UN sanctions list.
The trilateral core group of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US had in its meeting in April this year agreed on setting up two sub-groups for working on the issues of safe passage and delisting of the Taliban from UN sanctions list.
Progress on both issues was being hindered because of renewed friction between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Another important initiative that the two sides agreed during their parleys was about using the influence of clergy to persuade the Taliban to join the peace process.
A meeting of clerics from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim countries would be arranged.
“The conference could either be held in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan or any other Islamic country. The Ulema Conference would address the issue of rising militancy and suicide attacks in the name of religion and the defamation of our glorious and peaceful religion Islam due to its unjustified linkage with terrorism,” the statement said.