Hopes weak for Pakistan-Afghanistan peace talks

Hopes weak for Pakistan-Afghanistan peace talks

File photo of Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf

Islamabad:  A high-level Afghan delegation arrived in Pakistan on Monday for talks on peace in the war-torn nation, but analysts warned that without Taliban involvement little would come of the negotiations.

Members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, led by Chairman Salahuddin Rabbani, are to meet Pakistani political leaders and the head of the powerful military over the coming three days.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf expressed hope that the visit by the delegation "will pave the way for closer relations between the two countries," a statement said after he met Rabbani and accompanying members.

"There is consensus in Pakistan that both Afghanistan and Pakistan should work together for peace in the region," the statement issued by the PM's house said.

Support from Pakistan, which backed the Taliban regime that held power in Kabul from 1996 to 2001, is seen as crucial to peace in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

Afghan-Pakistani talks were derailed more than a year ago amid a welter of accusations when Rabbani's father Burhanuddin, then head of the peace council, was assassinated by a suicide bomber in Kabul.

Afghan officials lashed out at Islamabad over the killing of the former president of Afghanistan, saying it was planned in Pakistan and carried out by a Pakistani, while Islamabad blamed Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.

Suspicion and mistrust have long dogged ties between the two neighbours and Kabul has accused Pakistan of supporting Taliban Islamists in their 11-year insurgency against the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

This week's talks come as efforts to end the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan gain a new urgency as the withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops -- planned for the end of 2014 -- looms ever closer.

But analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai warned that no progress of any substance would be made this week, beyond Rabbani getting to meet the Pakistani side for the first time.

"The problem is that the Afghan government has not been in contact with (the) Taliban. Even Rabbani has not been able to get in touch with the Taliban since he became chairman of the council," Yusufzai said.

"How is it possible to achieve results in such a situation when the council has not been in contact with the Taliban?"

Preliminary contacts between the United States and the Taliban in Doha were broken off in March when the militants failed to secure the release of five of their comrades held in Guantanamo Bay.

Yusufzai said that while Pakistan has some influence over the Taliban it was unrealistic to think Islamabad could convince the militants to return to the negotiating table.

Such a move would require "confidence-building measures" from the United States, he said, and in any event could trigger a split in the Islamist movement.

Analyst Hasan Askari said that while Kabul and Washington might be keen for some kind of accommodation with parts of the Taliban, the insurgents had little incentive to talk, knowing NATO will leave in two years.

"They are waiting for withdrawal of international troops and are confident that they can make life for (the) Kabul government miserable," he said.

Story First Published: November 12, 2012 22:51 IST

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