Tue, Dec 25, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Pakistan, Afghanistan try to make Taliban a party

SHARED VISION:The transformation would allow the Taliban to seek power peacefully, as Pakistan fears more instability along its border after NATO troops withdraw

Reuters, KABUL

US soldiers blow up a roadside bomb set up by Taliban near Walli Was, Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border, on Nov. 4.

Photo: Reuters

Pakistan is genuine about backing the nascent Afghan peace process and shares the Kabul government’s goal of transforming the Taliban insurgency into a political movement, a senior Afghan government official said.

“They have told us that they share the vision contained in our roadmap, which is basically to transform the Taliban from a military entity into a political entity to enable them to take part in the Afghan political process and peacefully seek power like any other political entity in Afghanistan, he said. “This is the vision that they share.”

The official, who is closely involved in reconciliation efforts, said recent face-to-face talks between senior Taliban members and Afghan officials in France were an “enormously helpful” step in building a wider environment for peace.

Until now, the Taliban and Afghan officials only made indirect contacts.

The official’s remarks signaled unprecedented optimism from Afghanistan that Pakistan — long accused of backing Afghan insurgent groups — was now willing to put its weight behind reconciliation efforts, which are still in early stages and are vulnerable to factionalism.

“We are very optimistic. We believe that they are genuine in this discussion with us,” the senior government official said.

However, the senior official said that to sustain that optimism, Pakistan would need to take further concrete steps after releasing some mid-level Afghan Taliban members from detention, who may be useful in promoting peace.

The nuclear-armed South Asian nation, a strategic US ally, is seen as critical to US and Afghan efforts to stabilize the country before most NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.

Pakistan’s powerful army chief has made reconciling warring factions in Afghanistan a top priority, Pakistani military officials and Western diplomats said, the clearest signal yet that Islamabad means business in promoting peace with the Taliban.

General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably the most powerful man in Pakistan, is backing dialogue partly due to fears that the end of the US combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 could energize a resilient insurgency straddling the shared frontier, according to commanders deployed in the region.

The senior Afghan government official offered a similar assessment.

“I think there is a sense that we are also getting, that cooperation from Pakistan now is bound to be meaningful, substantive,” he said. “The reason is frankly, most in Pakistan, in our view, have reached the conclusion that time is running out. That it is no longer just about Afghanistan’s instability and Afghanistan’s insecurity, but it’s very much a question of security for themselves.”

The Haqqani network — which has far more experience in guerrilla warfare than the Afghan Taliban — would be welcomed to the peace process as long as it met certain conditions, the official said.

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