Pakistan assured visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday that it would promote efforts to reach a peace deal in Afghanistan before NATO’s planned withdrawal.
Cameron is the first foreign government leader to visit Islamabad since Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office last month after winning landmark elections in May.
Relations between Kabul and Islamabad are traditionally mired in distrust. The apparent headway made at a summit hosted by Cameron in February has since unraveled in a series of public rows.
Cameron flew to Pakistan from Afghanistan, where he joined an international push to revive peace efforts that recently collapsed in ignominy after the insurgents opened an office in the Qatari capital Doha.
“We hope that the UK will continue these efforts to seek sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Sharif told reporters after talks with Cameron.
He supported Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s position that any peace process should be “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.”
“I have assured Prime Minister Cameron of our firm resolve to promote the shared objective of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, to which the 3 million Afghan refugees currently living in Pakistan can return with honor and dignity,” Sharif said.
Cameron welcomed Sharif’s remarks about the “vital importance of the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
“I profoundly believe that a stable, prosperous, peaceful, democratic Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest, just as a strong, stable, peaceful, prosperous, democratic Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest, and I know that you and President Karzai will work together towards those ends,” Cameron said.
The search for a peace deal is an urgent priority as 100,000 US-led NATO combat troops prepare to withdraw next year.
Cameron flew into Kabul on Saturday to try to inject momentum into stalled peace talks, but left empty-handed after Karzai said his country could break up if a deal was done with the Taliban.
Cameron has cast himself as an honest broker able to use Britain’s relations with Pakistan to get the Taliban to talk peace.
Speaking at a joint news conference in Kabul after a visit to British troops in the southern province of Helmand, he said the moment to pursue peace had come.
“There is a window of opportunity and I would urge all those who renounce violence, who respect the constitution, who want to have a voice in the future prosperity of this country to seize it,” he said.
His comments came barely a week after the US revealed the Taliban were to open a long-anticipated office in Qatar, making a meeting with the Afghan state and the Taliban a possibility. Those talks collapsed within days after Karzai objected to the manner in which the office was opened, however, and Taliban militants later attacked central Kabul.
On Saturday, Karzai said he hoped peace talks could begin as soon as possible. However, he complained about foreign peace plans, sounded a defiant note against the US and warned of the dangers of doing a deal with the Taliban.
He also made it clear he was skeptical of Pakistan’s motives in the peace process.
“Any system that is imposed on us ... the Afghan people will reject,” Karzai told a news conference inside his palace. “Delivering a province or two to the Taliban will be seen by the Afghan people as an invasion of Afghanistan, as an effort from outside to weaken and splinter this country.”