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Islamabad and Kabul Agree to Relocate Taliban’s Qatar Office

Islamabad and Kabul Agree to Relocate Taliban’s Qatar Office

Kabul- In the wake of President Hamid Karzai’s trip to Islamabad last week, and over two months after plans for peace negotiations with the Taliban at their office in Qatar fell apart, a top-ranking Pakistani official has reported that Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to relocate the Taliban’s political office in a renewed attempt to jumpstart the peace process.

Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani Prime Minister’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Advisor, confirmed that officials in Islamabad and Kabul had agreed that peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban would need to continue in a location other than Doha, Qatar. However, Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, the Spokesman for the High Peace Council – the Afghan body designated to lead the negotiations – cautioned that no specific country had yet been decided for hosting the new the new Taliban office.

Back in June, the long-stalled peace process between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgency was kick-started with promise when the opening of a Taliban political office in Qatar was announced. However, the talks ended before they began when the Taliban proudly displayed its flag and an “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” placard that officials in both Kabul and Washington claimed violated preconditions for the office’s opening and misrepresented it as a type of government-in-exile. Since then, the peace process has seen no official progress while the role of Pakistan as an interlocutor between Kabul and the Taliban has taken center stage.

President Karzai’s trip last week to Islamabad was largely to facilitate a conversation between him and Nawaz Sharif, the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, regarding bilateral relations broadly and getting the Taliban back to the negotiating table in particular. Just as Afghan officials have routinely tossed accusations against their Pakistani counterparts for providing support of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, in desperation to get the peace process back on track, they have looked to utilize the that same leverage Pakistani officials have with the insurgents to push them toward talks.

Paying credence to the idea of Islamabad being a useful intermediary, Pakistani officials have offered continued lip-service to the peace process yet been careful to not speak out against the Taliban. “Islamabad will not support a single group in Afghanistan, but instead, we want the participation of all groups to form a stable Afghanistan,” said Mr. Aziz when he spoke about the relocation of the Taliban office.

Nevertheless, even if Pakistan is able to effectually contribute to getting peace talks back on track, many in Afghanistan remains suspicious and hostile toward their South Asian neighbor and its intentions.

“The government of Pakistan has a new plan to get the country out of the economic crises, but this is only possible when Afghanistan is stable, when trade opportunities are possible and when transit routes are available,” explained Mr. Qasimyar. “The government of Pakistan has noticed this issue and for the sake of their own economic gain, they are willing to help Afghanistan in starting peace talks.”

Afghan political and security experts are similarly dubious about Pakistan’s intentions, but also its ability to live-up to the expectations of it being able to get the peace process going.

“Pakistan is trying to take the lead during the peace talk process between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, and Pakistan has firm relations with Saudi Arabia, which is why Pakistan wants the Taliban’s new office there,” said Mir Ahmad Joyenda, an Afghan political expert. “Yet, it is not clear whether the civilian government of Pakistan has the support of its military intelligence for these aims. If not, the Pakistani government’s efforts in the peace talk process will have no significant results.”

In the past, the government of Afghanistan’s requests for honest and sincere cooperation from the Pakistani government in order to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table have gone unanswered. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, the new government of Narwaz Sharif has promised to turn over a new leaf.

“This is the new chapter of relations between the two countries, the Pakistani prime minister is committed to stop all meddling in Afghanistan’s internal politics, and he is determined to further develop bilateral relations with Afghanistan, believing strongly that Afghanistan’s national sovereignty is valued,” said Khurrum Dastageer Khan, a Pakistani Cabinet Minister, recently.

Assuming Pakistan and Afghanistan are able to put past differences behind them, however, there is nothing to say a renewed peace process will not fall apart just as it has in the past. It is at least hard to imagine a simple change of scenery making the difference. (ToloNews)

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