KABUL – Pakistan’s prime minister said Saturday that the recent release of a senior Taliban leader shows he is committed to helping bring peace to Afghanistan.
Nawaz Sharif said after meeting in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that an agreement had been reached to allow members of an Afghan peace council to continue talks with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released from Pakistani detention last September. Sharif did not elaborate.
The Taliban’s former No. 2 was set free after years in detention and some officials hope he can help jump-start the peace process, while others have their doubts as many other insurgents who have been released by Pakistan are thought to have returned to the fight. An Afghan delegation met with him in recent days, officials said, the first such encounter since his release.
“Mullah Baradar has been released, we discussed this matter at length today and we jointly have agreed on a mechanism and we will see it is properly implemented, and anybody who is sent by the president to Pakistan to talk to Mullah Baradar, we will carry out the instructions given to us by the president and make sure that such meeting take place,” Sharif said.
He said 2014 was a “milestone” as foreign forces depart and Afghanistan takes responsibility for its future and sovereignty. NATO and United Nations mandates that have kept tens of thousands of international forces in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001 expire next year.
“In our view, the key to sustainable peace in Afghanistan in 2014 and beyond is an inclusive political settlement. That is why Pakistan has steadfastly supported an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process,” Sharif said. “I take this opportunity to once again urge all the stakeholders to seize this moment and join hands to support the peace efforts. It is imperative to reverse the destructive cycle of conflict.”
He assured Karzai “that Pakistan would continue to extend all possible facilitation for the Afghan peace process.”
Both men made very short remarks after their meeting and took no questions. Both expressed their general desire for closer ties, trade and regional peace. Pakistan is beset by its own Taliban insurgency that has claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians in recent years.
Karzai said that working together “Afghanistan and Pakistan will be rescued from terrorism and extremism.”
Sharif’s one-day visit was his first to Afghanistan since being elected. Karzai has been pushing Pakistan for help in talking to the Taliban, where many of its leaders are thought to be based. Kabul has sought Islamabad’s help to bring the militant group to the table.
Sharif also said the two discussed trade and energy issues.
The topics included a plan to expand an electricity distribution network to ship surplus power from the Central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan through Afghanistan and into Pakistan, which suffers massive power shortages that threaten its industrial production and economy. Another project is a planned natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan that will pass through Afghanistan and Pakistan to end up in India.
Relations between the two countries have been testy and Afghanistan has often accused Pakistan of aiding Taliban leaders sheltering across the border. Sharif has nonetheless made improving ties with Afghanistan a priority.
The Taliban have refused to talk directly with Karzai, his government or its representatives. U.S.-backed talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban failed in June.
Pakistan has a complicated relationship with the Taliban. Pakistan helped the group seize control of Afghanistan in 1996, and Kabul has repeatedly accused Islamabad of providing the insurgents sanctuary on its territory following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The peace talks have also been the focus of recent tensions with the United States. Karzai has demanded that Washington do more to get them started, and said he will not sign a security agreement allowing thousands of American troops to remain in Afghanistan past 2014 if they do not.