Brussels - Afghan and Pakistani leaders met with US Secretary of State John F Kerry on Wednesday to try to reverse a deterioration in relations that has threatened Afghanistan’s peacemaking efforts.
Invited by Kerry, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani flew to a sprawling Flemish-style estate on the edge of Brussels to try to overcome their differences on a long list of security issues.
Kerry emerged after more than three hours of talks saying that he believed “we made progress,” but making no claims of a breakthrough. “We had a very extensive and... a very productive and constructive dialogue... But we have all agreed that results are what will tell the story, not statements at a press conference,” Kerry told reporters, without disclosing any details of what was discussed.
Flanked by Kayani and Karzai, he said, “We will under-promise but deliver... I think that everybody here agreed today that we will continue a very specific dialogue on both the political track as well as the security track... We have a commitment to do that in the interests of Afghanistan, Pakistan and peace in the region.”
Karzai was accompanied at the meeting by Bismillah Mohammadi Khan, Afghanistan’s minister of defence. General Kayani was joined by Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s foreign secretary. Gen Joseph Dunford, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, also attended the talks along with Douglas Lute, the senior White House official in charge of policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and David Pearce, the senior State Department coordinator for the region.
Kerry, who was in Brussels for a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ministerial meeting, said all three had agreed to continue their discussions and planned now to return to their capitals to do homework. He did not elaborate. Kerry at one point escorted Karzai and Kayani on a slow walk around the grounds, with Kerry in the centre and the leaders on either side.
But neither Karzai nor the Pakistan officials made any comment at the end of the meeting. But Karzai called it an important meeting and said he was glad Kayani and Jilani had found the time to travel to Brussels. “Let’s hope...for the best,” he told reporters.
Karzai and Kayani had sought to reach a deal at a meeting in February hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron at his country retreat, Chequers. The Wednesday meeting follows weeks of tension with Pakistan over their 2,600-km (1,600-mile) border and stalled peace efforts. Afghan officials say Pakistan has a long history of supporting Afghanistan’s Taliban and other insurgent factions. Pakistan in turn has accused Afghanistan of giving safe haven to militants on the Afghan side of the border.
Afghan leaders are trying to extend the reach of their shaky government and hammer out a political deal with the Taliban before the US and Nato presence dwindles next year. But they say the Pakistanis don’t want the Taliban to negotiate a deal with Karzai government that would undermine Islamabad’s influence. Even as plans for the meeting were set, Karzai’s spokesman said Monday that Islamabad had not taken any of the needed steps toward peace.
Kerry said before Wednesday’s meeting that he wanted to have a “continuing trilateral discussion with respect to the security and other issues” in the region as the Afghan military takes greater responsibility for protecting its own country. The estate where they met, Truman Hall, is a 27-acre property that was built by chocolate entrepreneur Jean Michiels and sold to the United States in 1984 by Michiel’s widow. It is the home of the US ambassador to NATO.