ISLAMABAD, March 2: Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has said she hopes for a relationship with Afghanistan based on trust and called for leaving behind the past associated with interference in that country and support for Taliban.
“Recognise what we are doing now without overshadowing it with whatever has been Pakistan’s historical baggage. We are moving out of that hangover,” Ms Khar said at a meeting with a group of journalists at her office a week after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani launched an appeal for all Afghan groups to join an intra-Afghan process for peace and reconciliation.
But there is definitely no remorse for “the historical baggage” because she said all the countries that helped create the “Frankenstein” should share the blame.
After his visit to Islamabad last month for the trilateral summit, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had said Pakistan’s support was crucial, but regretted that there were (at the time) impediments to peace.
His comments were taken as a reference to the absence of support he expected from Islamabad for furthering peace and reconciliation in his country.
Pakistan has long been accused by Afghan and western officials of providing sanctuaries to Taliban leaders with a view to retaining influence in Afghanistan after Nato completes its drawdown in 2014.
Ms Khar rubbished the idea of Pakistan desiring for strategic depth in Afghanistan, but said if one was needed it could not come through fighting a proxy war.
“If we are looking for any strategic depth it cannot be achieved militarily or can come through a proxy war. The only way to do is through building trust with the Afghan state.”
Does this signify a policy shift at a time when talk of negotiations is taking centre stage and Pakistan’s position as an honest and neutral peacemaker is under doubt because of its perceived support for Taliban?
The shift has, nevertheless, been coming through for some time now and became pronounced after Prime Minister Gilani’s visit to Kabul in Dec 2010 and his subsequent trip to the Afghan capital accompanied by Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani and ISI Director-General Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha. However, it has not been so openly enunciated so far.
Ms Khar said the policy change might not have been noticed but the “trend was very clear. We have actually walked the talk.”
The foreign minister said: “A stable and friendly relationship” with Afghanistan was what suited Pakistan’s future.
On the issue of reconciliation, she said, President Karzai clearly said during bilateral talks that Pakistan intended to have a “pro-active supportive role and not a pro-active leading role” in the process.
Explaining the intra-Afghan dialogue for which Mr Gilani appealed last week, the foreign minister said the idea was to have the Afghans decide for themselves at the level of Loya Jirga about the broader framework for peace talks.
“First they should have an intra-Afghan process to see on what conditions they want to run the peace and reconciliation, who do they want to run the process, what is the timeframe they want this to be done.”
She, however, does not see the process being encouraged by Pakistan as competing with the US-backed Qatar initiative.
“The two can be subsumed and may compliment each other.”