London meet underscores Pakistan’s vital role in Afghan peace process

By Muhammad Tahir Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-15 20:03:01

The recently concluded London conference has once again highlighted Pakistan's role in the Afghan peace process, as concerns are growing about the emerging security challenges that the country would face with the withdrawal of most foreign forces by year-end.

During the conference held on December 4 in London and attended by representatives of nearly 60 countries, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated Pakistan's support to Afghanistan's quest for peace with the Taliban.

"I shared with [Afghan] President [Mohammad Ashraf] Ghani my vision of a comprehensive and enduring partnership between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which contributes to the security and prosperity of our two nations and reinforces efforts for peace and development in the region," Sharif said in his speech.

In his meeting with the US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the conference, Sharif pledged that he would not allow Pakistani soil to be used for terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

"We agreed that terrorism, a common enemy, must be fought through common endeavors, without any distinction. We reaffirmed the commitment that neither side would allow its territory to be used against the other," the Pakistani prime minister said.

Both the US and Afghan governments are upbeat at the outcome of the major military operation in the North Waziristan tribal region where Pakistani forces also targeted the Haqqani Network, which has been blamed for deadly attacks in Afghanistan.

The much-anticipated offensive has to a large extent diminished the threat to Afghan security. The US and Afghan officials had long been demanding Pakistan go after the militants in North Waziristan, as they believed Afghan militants and Al Qaeda remnants had been using the region for cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.

The major stakeholders believe that Pakistan can play a key role in the Afghan reconciliation process with the Taliban insurgents and others.

Pakistan's top security and foreign affairs adviser, Sartaj Aziz, who accompanied the prime minister at the London conference, said that Pakistan will facilitate the peace process when the Afghan government decides to whom and where it wants to open dialogue with the insurgent groups.

As part of its role in the reconciliation process, Pakistan has freed about 50 senior Afghan Taliban leaders as a confidence-building measure, though none have joined the peace process so far.

Pakistan had also facilitated the opening of the Taliban political office in Qatar last year that raised hopes for opening the channels of communication between the world community and the Taliban.

The office was, however, closed just a day after it was opened when Afghanistan's former president Hamid Karzai raised objections when the Taliban hoisted their white flag atop the building and used the plaque of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," the name they had used during their 1996-2001 rule in the country.

Sources close to the Taliban office have told Xinhua that all Taliban representatives are now in Qatar. Syed Tayyeb Agha, a close confidant of Mullah Omar, is leading the Taliban negotiators. One analyst said that the onus is now on the Afghan leadership on how to proceed with the extremely complicated peace process.

The first and major confidence-building measure could be Kabul's move to withdraw objections to the opening of the Taliban political office in Qatar, which could pave the way for Taliban interaction with the world community and the Afghan side.

The article is a commentary from the Xinhua News Agency.

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