Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Kabul yesterday for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai as part of efforts to revive Afghanistan’s peace process before NATO troops are withdrawn next year.
The one-day visit is Sharif’s first since he took office in May and comes as Karzai is locked in a public dispute with Washington over a crucial security deal covering the role of US soldiers who remain in Afghanistan after next year.
Pakistan is seen as crucial to peace in Afghanistan as it was a key backer of the Taliban regime in Kabul and is believed to shelter some of the movement’s leaders.
A week ago Sharif met a visiting delegation from the Afghan High Peace Council, which is seeking to open negotiations with the Taliban insurgents who have fought US-led NATO and Afghan forces since 2001.
Pakistan said it recently released former Taliban No. 2 Mullah Baradar, who is seen by Kabul as important to bringing the militants to the negotiating table.
Militant sources have complained that Baradar is effectively still behind bars in Pakistan, and there has been no confirmation that the High Peace Council was able to meet with him during its visit.
Karzai, who is due to step down next year, has been stalling over the security pact with the US that would allow some US troops to stay in Afghanistan for training and counterterror missions after the NATO combat mission ends.
Washington is keen to complete the deal, but accuses Karzai of introducing new, last-minute conditions despite a Loya Jirga assembly which he convened voting for him to sign the agreement promptly.
Afghanistan’s peace process has been at a standstill since a Taliban office opened in Qatar in June, enraging Karzai as it was styled as an embassy for a government-in-exile.
“Both the leaders will discuss the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan,” Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said ahead of the planned visit yesterday.
The Taliban have refused to have direct contact with Karzai or with the High Peace Council, dismissing them as puppets of Washington.
Karzai and Sharif met British Prime Minister David Cameron in London last month in the fourth of a series of trilateral meetings designed to foster stability in the volatile South Asia region.