ISLAMABAD: Following a meeting with key government officials on Tuesday, US’ Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation reiterated the need for Pakistan to play a greater role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, adding that peace in Kabul was vital for stability in Islamabad.
Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday as part of his first visit to Pakistan since being appointed for the role. “During his stay in Pakistan, he consulted with Pakistani leaders on how best to achieve a durable political settlement in Afghanistan,” a statement released by the US Embassy in Islamabad said on Wednesday.
He landed in Islamabad after concluding meetings with the Afghan leadership in Kabul where he urged the Afghan government and the Taliban to detail their “negotiating teams” in order to move forward with the peace process. Khalilzad’s schedule includes stopovers in the UAE and Qatar, with a visit to Saudi Arabia next on the agenda.
Earlier on Tuesday, delegates from Pakistan and the US held high-level talks on the Afghan reconciliation process at the Foreign Office in Islamabad. The Pakistani side was led by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua while Khalilzad represented the US. Later, the visiting delegation met with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Senior analyst and expert on Afghan Affairs, Rahimullah Yusufzai, told Arab News that Khalilzad’s visit to Islamabad is an important step in setting the stage for future interaction between the two sides. “The US has now firmly put its weight behind finding a political solution to end the decades-long Afghan conflict by appointing the special envoy for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and picking the Afghan-born Khalilzad, who served as Washington’s ambassador to Kabul in the early years of the post-Taliban period,” he said.
In his maiden address, following his election win in July this year, Prime Minister Imran Khan had promised that the Pakistan government would be “a partner in peace,” and support Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s plans for the Taliban.
Yusufzai said that despite the strained relations between Washington and Islamabad, US officials have repeatedly asked Pakistan to play its role in the Afghan reconciliation process by engaging the Taliban in negotiations.
“The US has also been asking Pakistan to take action against the irreconcilable elements among the Taliban who are opposed to the peace process, while Pakistan has refused to take action on its soil against the Afghan Taliban leaders who may be present in the country,” Yusufzai said.
Islamabad argues that it has limited influence on the Afghan Taliban, but has promised to work towards peace to ensure regional security and stability. Pakistan’s role is also considered important in removing any hurdles in the peace process, even as it takes on the responsibility of becoming one of the key guarantors in case there’s any progress with the talks.
“Pakistan is willing to play its role but the Taliban are unwilling to start direct talks with the Ghani regime. Pakistan already promised to assist both Washington and Kabul, but it may not able to satisfy them,” Zafar Jaspal, a professor at the school of politics and international relations in Quaid-e-Azam University, told Arab News.
Yusufzai maintains that Islamabad is willing to play the role of a facilitator, “though it would continue to argue that making peace in Afghanistan has to be a shared objective of all the stakeholders instead of Pakistan’s alone”.