Karzai arrives in Pakistan to seek help in peace process

Aug 26, 2013| Courtesy by : Dawn.com

ISLAMABAD: Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Pakistan Monday for key talks with Pakistan’s newly elected government, in the hopes of communicating directly with Taliban insurgents.

Afghan President, Hamid Karzai - File Photo

Afghan President, Hamid Karzai – File Photo

The talks are expected to focus on what happens when 87,000 NATO troops pull out of Afghanistan next year, and whether or not the Afghan Taliban, in power from 1996 and 2001, will have a role.

Pakistan is considered crucial to peace talks with the extremist group whose sanctuaries lie on the mountainous border between the South Asian neighbours.

Karzai has said he will ask Pakistan for the release of high-profile Taliban prisoners into Afghan government custody.

Though he wishes his government would take central role in the peace talks, the Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan government so far, accusing them of being a puppet of the United States.

He was furious when the Taliban opened a liaison office in Qatar in June, as a precursor to talks with the United States but which was perceived as a self-styled embassy for a government in waiting.

Afghanistan has often accused elements inside Pakistan of aiding the Afghan Taliban. However, the country’s capital seat of Islamabad has publicly stated that it will do anything to stop the fighting in neighboring Afghanistan.

“Peace and stability in Afghanistan are in Pakistan’s vital interest,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

Karzai arrived at an air force base near Islamabad shortly before 10.00am, where Pakistan’s foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz received him, a Pakistani government official said.

The chairman of the High Peace Council, a body created by Karzai in 2010 to broker peace with the Taliban, is accompanying him on the trip.

Karzai has made 19 trips to Pakistan but this will be the first opportunity to meet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif since Sharif’s landslide election win in May.

“President Karzai’s visit will impart a strong impetus to ongoing efforts for an enhanced relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said a statement from Pakistan’s foreign office on Sunday.

Pakistan released 26 Taliban prisoners late last year, including the militants’ former justice minister Nooruddin Turabi.

Afghan officials believe the releases can encourage former detainees to talk to the Kabul government, although observers say there is little evidence those hopes have been realised. Several of the prisoners released are also understood to have returned to the battlefield.

In a news conference in Kabul on Saturday, Karzai told reporters that peace negotiations were the first item of concern during his meeting the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

“I will travel to Pakistan hoping to get a result out of it. I’m hopeful, but not sure, I will only go with hopes, and wish they materialise,” he told reporters.

Karzai is due to step down at presidential elections in April, while Pakistan’s new government is still grappling with policy and its powerful army is preparing to change its commander later this year.