Kabul has laid out an ambitious and contentious five-step plan that could bring hardline Taliban into government.
With the US and Nato due to withdraw their combat troops in 2014, there are concerns that a multi-sided civil war could erupt, and the search for peace has taken on a new urgency.
A flurry of diplomatic activity recently has seen meetings between the Afghan and Pakistani governments in Islamabad and Turkey, while the Taliban is participating in a conference in France this week.
The first step of the roadmap calls for a focus on “securing the collaboration of Pakistan” in the peace process. This includes Islamabad releasing specific Taliban detainees held in its prisons in the hope that this could help bring the militants to the negotiating table.
In a sign that the fractious neighbours could be starting to work more closely together, Pakistan freed a first batch of nine prisoners last month, although they did not include the top Taliban figures Kabul wants released. The Taliban, however, has publicly refused to talk directly with the Kabul government of President Hamid Karzai, dismissing him as a puppet of the Americans.
The second step in Kabul’s roadmap calls for initial moves towards formal direct negotiations with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia in the first half of next year, with the backing of the US and Pakistan.
To facilitate this, the plan calls for the US and the UN to support the dropping of sanctions against specific Taliban and other armed opposition leaders.
Step three, set for the second half of 2013, calls for agreements on a ceasefire and the transformation of the Taliban and other armed groups into political parties which could take part in elections. This could see Taliban members in cabinet and holding regional posts as provincial governors, particularly in their strongholds in the south and east of the country.
The final steps in the plan include securing a peaceful end to the conflict during the first half of 2014 and moves to sustain the “long-term security and stability of Afghanistan and the region”.
Baradar to be freed
Pakistan and Afghanistan have reached a deal for the release of senior Taliban leaders, including the outfit’s former deputy chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Sources said that although the agreement has not been made public, Afghan foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul and his Pakistani counterpart discussed the pros and cons of releasing the leaders and agreed that all the leaders, including Baradar who was an ex-Taliban military chief and was arrested in Karachi in 2010, would be released at the right time.