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PM urges Afghan Taliban, other groups to join peace process

February 25, 2012

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. - AFP File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan publicly appealed to Taliban and other Afghan groups on Thursday to join an ‘intra-Afghan process’ for advancing the cause of reconciliation and peace in the country.

The appeal, the first of its kind, was made by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in a policy statement issued after a meeting with ISI chief Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha on the Afghan issue.

The meeting, analysts believe, was meant to show that the appeal had the backing of the military and intelligence establishment.

“I would like to appeal to the Taliban leadership as well as to all other Afghan groups, including Hizb-i-Islami, to participate in an intra-Afghan process for national reconciliation and peace,” the prime minister said in the appeal made in response to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s request to Islamabad to support the peace initiative.

“It is our sincere hope that the Taliban leadership, Hizb-i-Islami and all other Afghan political leaders will respond positively to my appeal and agree to enter into direct negotiations in the framework of an intra-Afghan process for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan,” Mr Gilani said.

The move is considered to be a significant development in the context of Afghan reconciliation, which appeared to be struggling to gain momentum despite the agreement on establishment of Taliban’s political office in Qatar, because of Islamabad’s perceived influence over Taliban.

An official said the government was intending to take practical steps to help the reconciliation process in the later half of next month, when the parliamentary review of ties with the US would also have been completed allowing greater space to the government to help negotiate a deal.

The source, however, did not disclose what steps were being contemplated.

Mr Karzai, earlier this week, phoned Mr Gilani and renewed his call for Pakistan’s assistance to the reconciliation process, which he said was critical.

The telephonic conversation had followed Mr Karzai’s discussion with President Obama.

“It is now time to turn a new leaf and open a new chapter in the history of Afghanistan. It is time to now combine the strengths of the Afghan people in a true spirit of our noble religion — Islam and in accordance with the glorious traditions of the Afghans to build peace and bring prosperity to Afghanistan,” the prime minister said.

Mr Karzai’s last week visit to Islamabad for trilateral summit had created doubts about the reconciliation process, because of his much publicised ‘acrimonious’ bilateral session with Pakistan, which was described by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar as “hard talk”.

During the meeting, Mr Karzai is said to have blamed Pakistan for spreading radicalism and not delivering the Taliban leadership for peace talks.

Foreign Minister Khar dismissed Mr Karzai’s expectations as “preposterous”.

An important element of Mr Gilani’s policy statement was about an all-inclusive process in which all Afghan groups could take part.

“It is important to create conditions conducive for a grand intra-Afghan settlement, based on national reconciliation that involves the Afghan people without any distinction.”