Monday 19 February 2018

Karzai and Sharif Taliban talks bid

Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discuss the Taliban (AP)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discuss the Taliban (AP)

Afghanistan's president has urged neighbouring Pakistan to help peace talks with the Taliban, but hopes were low in both countries that much progress would be made.

Pakistan is seen as key to the process because of its strong historical ties with the Taliban. But Pakistan and Afghanistan have long had troubled relations and view each other with suspicion, especially with Kabul repeatedly accusing Islamabad of providing sanctuary for the insurgents.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was visiting Pakistan for the first time since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office in June. Mr Karzai told Mr Sharif he expects the Pakistani government to "facilitate and help" talks between the Afghan High Peace Council and the Taliban.

Earlier the Afghan president described his expectations for progress during the visit, saying, "I am not confident, but I am hopeful." He indicated that previous visits to Pakistan had not helped improve security in Afghanistan, but "we must continue our efforts."

Mr Karzai's visit comes after an attempt to jump start peace talks in the Qatari capital of Doha foundered in June. The Afghan president pulled the plug on the talks even before they began because he was angered that the group marked the opening of its Doha political office with the flag, anthem and symbols of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan - the group's name when they ruled the country.

The Taliban have held secret talks with Mr Karzai's representatives to try to restart the peace process, but it is unclear if they have made any headway.

Pakistan released over two dozen Taliban prisoners at the end of last year and early this year in an attempt to facilitate the peace process - complying, at least partially, with a long standing demand by Kabul.

But the prisoner release ended up causing friction with Kabul - and Washington - which were both frustrated that Pakistan was not monitoring the whereabouts and activities of the former inmates. They were worried the prisoners may simply rejoin the insurgency.

Also, Pakistan has not yet agreed to release its most important Taliban prisoner, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the insurgent group's former deputy commander.

Pakistan helped the Taliban seize control of Afghanistan in 1996, and many insurgents fled across the border following the invasion in 2001. Islamabad is widely believed to have maintained its ties to the Taliban, despite official denials.

Press Association

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