KABUL/ISLAMABAD - Afghan negotiators seeking peace with the Taliban will soon travel to Pakistan for their first meeting with key militant commander Mullah Baradar, officials said Wednesday.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a statement that a deal had been reached after talks on Tuesday in London with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Baradar was freed from jail in Pakistan in September as part of efforts to kickstart Afghanistan’s peace process, but since his “release” it appears he has been kept under house arrest by the Pakistanis.
“It was agreed on that a High Peace Council delegation will visit Pakistan and meet with Mullah Baradar in the near future,” the statement from Karzai’s office said.
The High Peace Council is the Afghan body charged with opening negotiations with the Taliban insurgents as US-led NATO forces prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of next year.
Support from Pakistan, which backed Afghanistan’s 1996-2001 Taliban regime, is seen as crucial to peace after NATO troops depart - but relations between the neighbours remain uneasy.
The Pakistani government insists Baradar, once the number two to Taliban supremo Mullah Omar, has been released and is free to meet anyone to further the peace process.
But the Taliban complain he is effectively still behind bars and Pakistani security officials last month said he was being held at a safe house in Karachi.
Afghan officials believe that Baradar could encourage Taliban leaders to seek a negotiated settlement to end the 12-year insurgency if he were fully at liberty.
A Taliban office in Qatar that opened in June was meant to lead to talks, but instead it enraged Karzai after it was styled as an embassy for a government-in-exile.
Karzai and Sharif met in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron in the fourth of a series of trilateral meetings designed to foster stability in the volatile south Asia region.
The meeting was considerably more low-key than one hosted by Cameron at his official country retreat in February, which ended with grand promises of a peace deal within six months.
Karzai’s statement said that Sharif had agreed to make his first visit to Kabul soon since coming to power after May’s general election, but there was no immediate confirmation from the Pakistani side.
Speaking in Islamabad, Special Assistant to Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatmi said Wednesday that Mullah Baradar has been released on the request of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and he can freely move from one place to another.
Talking to journalists, he said “Islamabad is providing him security as long he is in the Pakistan. “Mullah Bradar is free and he can move freely, we are providing him security,” he added.
He said Mullah Bradar is a part of Taliban and Pakistan released him on request of Afghanistan but he would not be handed over to anyone.
The Special Assistant said Afghanistan wanted Pakistan to persuade Afghan Taliban to talk to Afghan High Peace Council‚ which has been assigned the task of reconciliation in that country.
He said it would be in the interest of both Afghanistan and Pakistan if Afghan government and Taliban reach an understanding before withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014. He said peace in Afghanistan is essential for peace and stability of Pakistan. With this in view‚ he said‚ Pakistan is committed to promote peace in that country.
Earlier‚ speaking at the concluding ceremony of 7th Regional Workshop for Judges‚ Prosecutors and Police Officers of South Asia on Effectively Countering Terrorism‚ Tariq Fatemi said there is growing recognition that the problem of extremism and terrorism is neither confined to a single country nor can be tackled by a single country.
He said there is need for cooperation across frontiers to address the challenge. The Special Assistant said the problem of terrorism is being faced by the entire humanity but its manifestation in Pakistan has been extremely serious. Pakistan has suffered enormously in terms of lives‚ resources as well as damage to its image and credibility.He said Pakistan is firm in its resolve to combat terrorism which has many forms and manifestations.
Tariq Fatemi said economic growth and development play extremely important role in fighting terrorism and with this in view the present Government has made revival of economy its highest priority. He said there is no way to combat terrorism and extremism unless we improve the living standards‚ create jobs and create a harmonious society.He said there is no place for extremism and intolerance in Islam or any other faith.
He said that irrespective of the reality that the problem of terrorism is a legacy of past mistakes by us and many others‚ Pakistan is deeply committed to address the challenge with the cooperation of the international community.
He said the judiciary and media in Pakistan are independent and civil society is vibrant and this augurs well for solution of the problems confronting the nation.