KABUL: Pakistan is more willing than before to play a role in Afghanistan’s tentative peace process with the Taliban and has agreed to target the hideouts of Taliban fighters and other insurgents who attack Afghanistan and refuse to take part in faltering peace talks, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s top officials said Sunday after a visit to Islamabad.Karzai, who met Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, called on the Pakistani government to help Taliban rebels take part in any peace negotiations, said Muhammad Masoom Stanikzai, secretary of a peace council set up by Karzai. “During the talks, the message of the Afghan government was very clear,” he said. “The message was that those (rebels) who want to join the peace process and reconcile should be facilitated and the means should be prepared for them in order to enable them to join the negotiations,” he added.But those who do not want to join the reconciliation process “must be dropped… No room should be left (for them to) arrange and organise and encourage people to fight and continue the war.” In response, Pakistan was “much more welcoming than at any other time”, said Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omer.“The acceptance was better and (Pakistan) made some promises about practical actions and we are hopeful that (the promises) are practised in action,” he added, although he did not disclose what those promises were. The upbeat comments came after Karzai and a raft of top aides held two days of meetings in Islamabad, just weeks after US Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, heightening calls within the United States for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.But relations between Kabul and Islamabad are often shrouded in distrust and mutual recrimination over the violence plaguing both countries. The Taliban have rejected peace overtures in public. But some experts believe the death of bin Laden, whom Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar refused to surrender after the September 11, 2001 attacks, could be a spur.
Pakistan was a main ally of the Taliban until joining the US-led “war on terror” following the attacks on New York and Washington and subsequently started fighting a homegrown Taliban insurgency along the Afghan border. Many of the Taliban’s key leaders are thought to be hiding in Pakistan, and the threat of military strikes could be used to pressure fighters to negotiate. Still, how strong Pakistan will go after the Taliban remains in question, and there was no immediate confirmation of the agreement from the Pakistani government.Taliban fighters and other groups have long used Pakistan’s Tribal Areas to launch attacks on NATO troops in neighbouring Afghanistan, a point of contention between the two nations. “The message is that people who want to take part in the peace process should have the way cleared for them,” said Stanikzai, secretary of a peace council set up by Afghanistan’s president.
“To those that think war is the only means to reach their goals, there should not be a hide-out for them to continue their war.”Stanekzai and other Afghan officials spoke to journalists on Sunday after President Karzai returned from visit to Islamabad. CIA Director Leon Panetta also spoke separately with senior Pakistani officials about intelligence sharing and efforts to reconcile with the Taliban. A four-page statement signed by Pakistani and Afghan officials dated Saturday gave no details about the proposed strikes, though Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has promised to help with the peace process in any way that Afghanistan sees fit. Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omar said that Pakistan’s government has “influence” over some Taliban that could be used to draw them into the so-far faltering peace negotiations. – Dailytimes