Jumpstarting the Peace Process
In another bid to revive the peace process, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasoul visited Islamabad to persuade Pakistani officials in helping jumpstart the peace process and releasing more Taliban leaders who can play a role in the process. According to the officials, Rasoul met senior Pakistani officials on Friday, with talks about release of more Taliban prisoners, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Bardadar –once the right-hand man of the Taliban Leader Mullah Omar– at the top of his agenda.
The trip comes at a time when there are growing hopes about Pakistan’s policy towards the Afghan Peace process, after the country released nine mid-ranking Taliban leaders during a visit of Afghan High Peace Council delegation, headed by the HPC chairman Salahudding Rabaani, to Islamabad. Ahead of Rasouls’s visit, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that Islamabad wants helping the Afghan peace process further, a signal that could mean Pakistan’s willingness in cooperating with the stalled peace process and reintegration of the insurgent groups.
As the US and Afghan governments have made it clear, Islamabad’s role in the Afghan Peace process is vital and undeniable. High-ranking Taliban leaders reside in Quetta of Balochistan, from where they organize the war in Afghanistan. And many militant groups such as Haqqani Network have safe havens in tribal areas of Waziristan. Kabul and Washington have always accused the country of seeking a double standard policy towards the decade-long war on insurgency and the peace process. Afghanistan has long sought help of the Pakistanis to bring the Taliban leaders into negotiation table, but Islamabad has abstained so far to fully cooperate with the peace efforts, initially led by the United States.
However, there was finally a late but welcome goodwill gesture from Islamabad when the country released some mid-level Taliban leaders during visit of the HPC delegation to the country. Though a positive and welcome attitude, Pakistan’s recent signals for helping the process cannot be considered as a policy shift by Islamabad towards the peace process and the militant groups based in north-west of the country. In another word, it would be premature to translate the release of Taliban prisoners as a real supportive policy of Pakistani government, and more particularly its military establishment, towards the Afghan-led peace talks with the insurgents.
Thus, we need to wait and see what comes further from Pakistan. And surely the Afghan government is keen to see Islamabad’s policy shift into a supportive one to the Afghan-led peace talks with Taliban, particularly the main body of its leaders –the Quetta Shura. Indeed, the whole peace process relies highly on Pakistan’s policy shift toward the process and its role in bringing the leaders of the militants into negotiation table. Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasoul’s visit to Islamabad is an important event and a real test for the Pakistan’s policy shift and its support to the peace process.