ISLAMABAD (AFP) - A joint conference of Pakistani and Afghan religious scholars scheduled for early March and aiming to push forward the peace process in Afghanistan will be delayed due to disagreements, officials said Friday.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari had agreed during a summit in Britain on February 4 to hold the conference at the beginning of March.
But a top Pakistani cleric doubted the meeting, due to take place in Kabul, would be held as scheduled in the absence of a clear agenda.
“I don’t think it will be possible to hold the conference in the first or second week of March,” head of Pakistan Ulema Council, Allama Tahir Ashrafi, told AFP, adding that the Afghan Taliban, who are waging an insurgency in the country, should also be invited to the conference.
“It will be useless to think of peace and reconciliation without their active participation,” he said.
“We also need to be sure that the conference will not be used to give legitimacy to Karzai and to issue an edict against Afghan Taliban,” Ashrafi said, underscoring the need for political dialogue between all Afghan groups.
The US and NATO have around 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, but the vast majority of them will leave next year, with Afghan forces progressively taking over. Other religious parties announced that they would not attend the meeting under the current circumstances.
“We have decided not to attend the conference, which will only advance (the) American agenda,” spokesman of the rightwing Jamaat-i-Islami, Farid Paracha, told AFP.
“The conference aims to legitimise Karzai’s rule by setting aside all ground realities, one of them Afghan Taliban,” he added.
Head of the Defence of Pakistan Council Maulana Samiul Haq, also refused to attend the conference, saying that it will be used as a platform to mobilise public opinion against Afghan Taliban.
“This is regrettable, as we were expecting Pakistani ulema to help bring peace in Afghanistan, but now it looks like they are looking for pretexts not to help,” a member of the Afghan Ulema Council, Mawlawi Shahzada Shahed, told AFP in Kabul, adding that they had made “many excuses”.
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 despite some recent improvements.
Both Kabul and Washington have regularly accused Pakistan of helping to destabilise Afghanistan.