ISLAMABAD: When Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz travels to Kabul on Friday for attending a regional conference, he will try on the sidelines to explore if the Afghan leadership is interested in reviving the peace dialogue with Taliban that was suspended weeks ago following the revelation about Mullah Omar’s death.

During his day-long visit, Mr Aziz will attend the ministerial meeting of sixth edition of Regional Economic Conference on Afghanistan and meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other leaders.

Pakistan will take a decision on its future line of action regarding ties with Afghanistan and the reconciliation process after Mr Aziz’s return.

According to a senior official, Pakistan is fully convinced that the way forward lay in an ‘intra-Afghan dialogue’, but would ask the Afghan leaders to make a choice between the reconciliation route and fighting the insurgents.

The visit takes place amid heightened tensions between the two countries over allegations that terrorist groups involved in violence in Afghanistan continue to have sanctuaries in Pakistani territory. High profile attacks in Kabul last month had derailed the efforts started after the change of government in Kabul for normalisation of ties.

The official said in a background briefing that Pakistan had agreed to facilitate dialogue between the Afghan government and Taliban at the request of President Ghani.

The first round of talks was held on July 7 and another was planned for July 31 when the process was suspended after the Afghan intelligence agency released the information about Taliban chief Mullah Omar’s death.

The official claimed that the Afghan government and Taliban were close to a deal on lowering of hostilities ahead of the cancelled second round. He said eight members of the Taliban shura were in Islamabad when the July 31 meeting was called off.

“A real opportunity was then lost,” he regretted and put the blame of breakdown of the process on spoilers whom he identified as the Afghan agency NDS and former president Hamid Karzai as well as error of judgment on part of the Ghani administration.

The official said the Afghans wanted Pakistan to fight their war on its soil – a reference to Kabul’s demand for a crackdown on the Haqqani network and other militant groups that it alleges to be based in Pakistan.

The Afghan presidency, while highlighting the point of friction between the two countries, had previously said: “There is credible evidence that the leadership, command and control centre, support infrastructure and sanctuaries of the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups are inside the Pakistani territory. The government of Afghanistan has time and again provided ample evidence to the government of Pakistan about the presence of terrorist networks in Pakistan so that it takes action against these groups.”

Responding to the statement, the Pakistani official said: “How can we fight someone else’s war on our own soil and bear the fallout. …We may, however, help in peace efforts if Afghan leaders desired that we play such a role again.”

He said that if the Afghans remained adamant on a military solution to the problem then a consultation involving China and the US would be required because this course would have serious implications.

During his meetings with Afghan leaders, Mr Aziz would additionally emphasise on lowering the anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

The official said Afghan government’s statements against Pakistan were undermining bilateral trust, besides inflaming public sentiments.

Pakistan was genuinely interested in a rapprochement with Afghanistan and helping it restore peace, the official said, adding that the Afghans needed to realise that.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2015

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