Afghanistan, Pakistan take small steps towards repairing rift


Pakistan and Afghanistan have stepped back from a near-rupture in relations following the murder of an Afghan peace envoy, officials said on Wednesday after several days of talks between the two countries.
Leaders of the two countries, accompanied by their army and intelligence chiefs, met at a regional conference hosted by Turkey for the first time since the assassination in September of peace envoy and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani.
“We gained more than we hoped for. We broke the ice,” a Turkish official said of his country’s efforts to help repair a relationship essential to ending the war in Afghanistan.
“We all know the story here – it’s difficult,” a senior western diplomat said. “They know the bottom line is that they do actually need each other.”
Afghanistan had earlier cancelled talks with Pakistan after Rabbani’s killing in Kabul by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace emissary who Afghanistan said was sent from Quetta.
The assassination also prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to say there was no point in talking to the Taliban and that Afghanistan should instead deal directly with Pakistan, which it accuses of supporting and sheltering the insurgents.
Afghan and Pakistani officials, however, both indicated a willingness to try again to explore peace talks with insurgents – though they differ on how these should be approached.
Kabul has in the past accused Pakistan of interfering in the peace process and of backing the Afghan Taliban – including those in the so-called Quetta shura and the Haqqani network – to extend its own influence in Afghanistan and counter rival India. “In our discussions we ask Pakistan again and again to allow the Quetta shura to come and sit with Afghanistan at the negotiating table to find, to explore a peaceful solution,” Karzai’s National Security Adviser Rangeen Dadfar Spanta said.
“We are ready to talk to everybody, every Afghan citizen if he or she is ready to talk for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he told Reuters.
A day after a trilateral summit hosted by Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan along with other countries in the region also signed up to a declaration on Wednesday reaffirming support for an Afghan-led process of reconciliation.
“We have to make damage control (after Rabbani’s killing),” another senior western diplomat said. “We have to make clear we don’t delete the file of reconciliation.”
Pakistan, increasingly worried about the war in Afghanistan spilling over into its own territory, has long called for talks with Taliban insurgents.
Such talks have been endorsed by the United States – provided insurgents are willing to sever ties with al Qaeda, renounce violence and respect the Afghan constitution.