ISLAMABAD: The head of the Afghan council for peace talks with the Taliban will visit Islamabad to discuss reconciliation efforts, Pakistan’s Foreign Office said Sunday.
Salahuddin Rabbani, chairman of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan, will lead the three days of talks starting Monday with Pakistani political and military leaders, said the Foreign Office statement.
Rabbani was invited by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar for the visit, during which he will call on President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, said the statement. The peace council chief will also hold formal talks with Foreign Minister Khar as well as the country’s military leadership, it added.
The announcement of the peace council chief’s visit comes two days after a senior Afghan official was reported to have said Kabul’s bid to secure direct talks with the Taliban had failed.
“No breakthrough is expected before the 2014 election,” the official told news agency Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Afghan officials are hoping to make progress in reconciliation efforts with the Taliban before presidential elections in April of 2014 and before most Nato combat troops pull out at the end of 2014.
The official also added that the High Peace Council would soon present Pakistan with a roadmap on how it could help bring peace.
Kabul set up the peace council in 2010 to negotiate an end to the decade-long war. The US and its Nato allies plan to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. Rabbani was named the council chief after his predecessor, his father Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated in Sept 2011 by a suicide bomber who purported to be a Taliban peace envoy.
Peace talks were derailed then as Afghan officials lashed out at Islamabad over the killing, saying it was planned in Pakistan and carried out by a Pakistani with a bomb in his turban. Pakistan denied the charges and blamed Afghan refugees living in Pakistan for the murder.
Earlier this year in August, a similar visit by the peace council chief was put off following tensions between the two countries over cross-border shelling.
A trilateral meeting of senior US, Pakistani and Afghan officials in New York in September reviewed proposals to help an Afghan-led reconciliation process. The meeting was attended by President Zardari, Afghan President Hamid Karzai as well as Salahuddin Rabbani.
According to reports, the invitation for Rabbani’s visit was renewed during the trilateral summit.
In August, senior officials from both countries said Afghan officials have held secret talks with the Taliban’s former second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is in detention in Pakistan.
Afghan officials, hopeful that direct contact with top Taliban commanders could give them the most leverage in any peace talks, want Islamabad to hand over Baradar and other Afghan Taliban leaders they say are in Pakistan.
Afghanistan is known to want access to Afghan Taliban leaders belonging to the so-called Quetta Shura, or council, named after the Pakistani city where they are said to be based, an issue the peace council is likely to raise.
Pakistan denies giving sanctuary to insurgents and says no Taliban leaders are in Quetta.