KABUL, July 19: Afghan efforts to negotiate with the Taliban need Islamabad’s help to be successful, the leaders of Afghanistan, Britain and Pakistan emphasised on Thursday, following three-way talks in Kabul.
British leader David Cameron and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for the first time, as British and Nato combat troops prepare to leave Afghanistan in 18 months’ time.
Mr Karzai has long sought to negotiate with the Taliban, who have been fighting for a decade to topple his Western-backed government, but the Islamist militia has in public refused to deal with his administration, branding it an American puppet.
During the talks, Mr Karzai reiterated the “urgency” of a political solution.
His office said Mr Ashraf and Mr Cameron reaffirmed support for such a process, “led and owned by Afghans, facilitated by Pakistan and other regional countries”.
Mr Cameron appreciated the sacrifices and role of Pakistan in the war against terrorism. Mr Karzai seconded him in acknowledging Pakistan’s efforts for long-lasting peace in the region.
Kabul has repeatedly asked Islamabad to assist efforts to broker a peace deal with the Taliban, whose leaders have traditionally had close ties to Pakistan. But it remains unclear to what extent Pakistan controls core Taliban leaders and to what extent it can facilitate a peace process.
Pakistan’s oldest newspaper, Dawn, on Thursday counselled Pakistan to “begin to match its claims and demands with what it can actually deliver”.
“It will need to demonstrate at least a genuine effort to try to persuade the Taliban (which) it does have contact with, to talk to the Afghan government and the US – and turning over prisoners could be a first step,” the newspaper wrote.
It was Prime Minister Ashraf’s first visit to Kabul since being elected. He assured Pakistan’s full support for an Afghan-led peace process leading to an intra-Afghan consensus for durable peace.
He said the current situation needed practical and realistic strategy within the framework of an Afghan-owned inclusive peace and reconciliation process that should be based on trust and transparency.
Mr Ashraf said to secure the promise of a brighter tomorrow for their people, Pakistan and Afghanistan needed to work closely together with support of friends and partners like the United Kingdom.
According to the joint statement released by Kabul, the three leaders “reiterated their strong commitment to working together to eliminate” terrorism, which “poses the gravest threat to regional and international security”.
“They also emphasised the importance of peace in Afghanistan for the peace and security of Pakistan,” it said.
Mr Cameron warned the Taliban at a joint news conference with Mr Karzai earlier that the international community would continue to support the Afghan government after Nato troops pull out in 2014.
“I think this sends a very clear message to the Taliban, that you cannot wait this out until foreign forces leave in 2014, because we will be firm friends and supporters of Afghanistan long beyond then.
“So now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful political process in Afghanistan.”
Mr Karzai said the peace process was “the most important goal that we pursue”, adding that Thursday’s talks were “to see how we could intensify the Pakistan role in the Afghan peace process”.
Mr Cameron also signed a deal to build an officers’ training academy modelled on Britain’s Sandhurst as Afghan forces take increasing responsibility for the fight against Taliban insurgents.
Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, making it the second-largest contributor to Nato’s US-led 130,000-strong International Security Assistance Force.
Asked about reductions in troop numbers, Mr Cameron said it would be done gradually, from 9,500 to 9,000 this year.
“I don’t want to see some cliff edge. I’m confident we are going to have a staged reduction and deliver a safe and secure situation.”
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Adviser on Interior Rehman Malik, Minister of State for Commerce Abbas Ahmed Afridi and Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence General Zaheerul Islam accompanied Prime Minister Ashraf.
Pakistan, Afghanistan to resume talks
Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed on Thursday to resume regular talks on Afghanistan’s peace process, with the new Pakistani prime minister promising to help arrange meetings between Afghan and Taliban representatives.
Following daylong talks in Kabul, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and President Hamid Karzai said they had agreed to resume meetings of the two-track Peace Commission.
The commission, which drew together political and military leaders from both neighbours, was suspended last year following the assassination of former Afghan president and peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani. Afghan officials accused Pakistani intelligence of being involved in the killing.
“Pakistan is playing the role of facilitator ... If Pakistan can facilitate in any manner, we will do it,” Mr Ashraf told reporters at Karzai’s garden palace in Kabul.
“Let me assure you that Pakistan does not support any terrorists. It is not in our interest and we cannot afford it,” he said.
Both leaders said Mr Rabbani’s son Salahuddin Rabbani – who replaced his father as head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, the body tasked with reaching out to the Taliban – would travel to Pakistan for talks soon. It would be his first visit since his appointment in April.—Agencies